Phrases like "very unique" are considered poor grammar by those who treat unique as a superlative, that is, an adjective used to compare three or more things. To them, a superlative represents an absolute condition - it's binary to our programmer friends. (I was in this camp for many years, but have come to doubt my absolute position recently.)

It's easier to understand this is we look at a true superlative word: perfect. Now, most of you would agree, I think, that to say "The gonkulator is very perfect." is incorrect. You know that a thing is either perfect or it's not, and that perfect does not normally take a positive modifier. (I acknowledge that "almost perfect" is quite correct, as is "almost unique.") Update: Gritchka points out that the The Constitution of the United States of America begins by talking about a 'more perfect' union. Argh.

Another example of a superlative is an adjective modified with "-est". Someone can be the sleepiest, happiest, or horniest. Yet you would not find the construction "I was the most sleepiest." correct when used by anyone older than about 6 years old.

In summary, superlative adjective forms should not be modified. Nonetheless, in much the same way that "persons" crept into the English language in our lifetime, largely thanks to bonehead news anchormen, "unique" is slowly losing its superlative status. (This is due to the use of 'unique' as a synonym for unusual.) I wonder what term will replace 'unique'? (Noder tdent suggests 'Utterly unique'.)

Su`per*la"tive (?), a. [L. superlativus, fr. superlatus excessive, used as p.p. of superiorferre, but from a different root: cf. F. superlatif. See Elate, Tolerate.]

1.

Lifted up to the highest degree; most eminent; surpassing all other; supreme; as, superlative wisdom or prudence; a woman of superlative beauty; the superlative glory of the divine character.

2. Gram.

Expressing the highest or lowest degree of the quality, manner, etc., denoted by an adjective or an adverb. The superlative degree is formed from the positive by the use of -est, most, or least; as, highest, most pleasant, least bright.

-- Su`per*la"tive*ly, adv. -- Su`per*la"tive*ness, n.

 

© Webster 1913.


Su`per*la"tive, n.

1.

That which is highest or most eminent; the utmost degree.

2. Gram. (a)

The superlative degree of adjectives and adverbs; also, a form or word by which the superlative degree is expressed; as, strongest, wisest, most stormy, least windy, are all superlatives.

<-- #sic. there is no definition (b)! -->

Absolute superlative, a superlative in an absolute rather than in a comparative or exclusive sense. See Elative.

 

© Webster 1913.

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