Monday, 5 December 2016

The bestest

In my German class last week we learnt about comparatives and superlatives. German is simpler than English in this respect, as it always adds a suffix: -er for comparatives, -(e)ste(n) for superlatives. For superlatives, there are two ways of doing it. You either say am intelligentesten or die intelligenteste.

As usual, there's a really simple rule that my book didn't tell me and I had to go looking for. You use the am kind when it's predicative (not followed by the noun it modifies), as in Laura is the most intelligent, and you use the other kind when it's attributive (followed by the noun), as in She is the most intelligent woman in the room.

Some of the exercises I had to do involved wh-questions, like Which hotel was the nicest?. We can analyse these (in some theories) as having an understood hotel following nicest: we know that it means the nicest hotel. This is more evident with a question like Which biscuits did she bake?: it corresponds with She baked which biscuits, which relates to the answer She baked these biscuits.

Note, though, that we can't so easily put the wh-phrase back with the hotel question: *(It) was the nicest which hotel just doesn't work at all. This perhaps explains my observation. I had predicted that maybe when you have a wh-question, you'd use the der/die/das form, because there is an understood noun and it's sort of attributive. Sadly for me and my homework answers, this turned out not to be the case, and you use the am form there. Not so sad for the theory, though, because maybe this is precisely because of the impossibility of 'putting back' the wh-phrase to the position following the adjective.

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