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I came across the following question:

Rewrite the sentence by changing the word 'faintest' to positive degree of comparison:

I did not have the faintest idea about what was going on.

As far as I can see, the word 'faintest' is used here in a negative sense i.e. the person's idea was worse than a faintest idea. Any idea about how to change the degree of the adjective(to comparative and positive) keeping the meaning of the sentence same?

When I say that the meaning is same, I mean that the meaning conveyed by the degree of the adjective must remain the same. Here is an example: "London is the busiest city in the world" (Superlative) "London is busier than all other cities in the world" (Comparative) "No other city in the world is as busy as London" (Positive).

  • Maybe "a faint idea"? – SovereignSun Jan 8 '17 at 10:09
  • Adjectives comes in three degrees - positive, comparative and superlative. The adjective faint could be used as: I did not have a faint idea. (Positive) I did not have a fainter idea ( Comparative - *Unlikely but still). I did not have the faintest idea. (Superlative) – Ronald Sole Jan 8 '17 at 14:15
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    After reading your clarification, I understand better what you are aiming for. Having said that, I'm still not entirely certain. Perhaps, "I did not have even a faint idea..." (positive). The meaning of the original and this are the same. As for comparative, I do not think it is possible in this case. It does not sound right to me to describe an idea as "fainter" in any circumstances I can think of. I think it might have to do with describing an idea as "faint" being a somewhat figurative use of the word to begin with. – G-Cam Jan 14 '17 at 5:49
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I'm not 100% certain if this is what the question is asking but I think a possible answer might be.

I had only the faintest idea about what was going on.

When degree adjectives are used in negative sentences, as in the original sentence, they imply that the actual degree is beneath the adjective.

When used in affirmative sentences, the actual degree is the same as the adjevtive.

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Reference:

  • Positive degree: The primary form of an adjective or adverb; denotes a quality without qualification, comparison, or relation to increase or diminution.
  • Comparative degree: the form an adjective or adverb takes to compare two things.
  • Superlative degree: the form an adjective or adverb takes to compare three or more things.

Positive degree

This house is big.

This house is not as big as that one.

A faint idea.

I had a faint idea about what to do.

Comparative degree

This house is bigger than that one.

As time passed I had a fainter idea about what was going on

Superlative degree

This is the biggest house in this street.

I did not have the faintest idea about what was going on.

So the original question

I did not have the faintest idea about what was going on.

Is in the superlative. The question is asking to change just the adjective "faint" and to take it all the way down to the positive degree which would likely yield:

I did not have a faint idea about what was going on.


Addition on POSITIVE

As far as I can see, the word 'faintest' is used here in a negative sense i.e. the person's idea was worse than a faintest idea. Any idea about how to change the degree of the adjective (to comparative and positive) keeping the meaning of the sentence same?

No it's not :) The word 'faintest' is an adjective that describes the noun 'idea'. The negative, the word 'not' is used with the verb 'to do'.

I did have the faintest idea

I did not have the faintest idea

It's a different meaning of the word "positive". Changing the verb from negative to positive (positive statement) means changing I did not to I did. This is completely independent to changing the adjective from positive (primary form) to comparative to superlative. It's just confusing that the word positive is used in both cases.

When I say that the meaning is same, I mean that the meaning conveyed by the degree of the adjective must remain the same. Here is an example: "London is the busiest city in the world" (Superlative) "London is busier than all other cities in the world" (Comparative) "No other city in the world is as busy as London" (Positive).

As a rephrasing exercise see:

Positive verb, superlative, comparative and positive degree adjective

  • Even after a week of study, I barely had the faintest idea about what was going on.
  • After time passed, I had a fainter idea about what was going on.
  • After weeks of study, I had a faint idea about what was going on.

Negative verb, superlative, comparative and positive degree adjective

  • Everyone else seemed clued in but I did not have the faintest idea about what was going on.
  • I did not have any more of a fainter idea about it than the next guy.
  • Everyone else understood but I did not a faint idea about what was going on.

So I order to rephrase these types of sentences, the key point is to find a comparison. If you are trying to use "a fainter" idea, which is the hardest, then thing "compared to what"? Compared to the idea that someone else has? Compared to the idea I had yesterday? And keep the adjective comparison separate from the verb.

  • It seems that you did not understand my question. I have now reworded my question. – Shoubhik Raj Maiti Jan 13 '17 at 17:22
  • ah right I see, note added above. – Bella Pines Jan 17 '17 at 9:20
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Original task the OP was asking about:

Rewrite the sentence by changing the word 'faintest' to positive degree of comparison:

I did not have the faintest idea about what was going on.

You were not given a well-written task. English treats the double negative concept differently than some other languages. Here the double negative is masked a bit, but it is still there. The literal meaning of the example sentence would be:

I had a good understanding about what was going on.

Making the idea more positive would be easy. Change good to great. I don't see how going back to the original form would work:

I did not have a clear idea about what was going on.

By using the opposite of faintest, we actually now have a poor idea. Double negatives suck, and we end up not doing as the test requested in achieving a positive degree of comparison. Since it started out positive, reversing the adjective made it negative.


In context, many would forgive (or, due to cultural background or knowledge of other languages, automatically re-interpret without much thought), the double negative. They would understand it as a simple negative, as you did. Isobella provided a good answer for a badly worded task:

I did not have a faint idea about what was going on.

Accepting the double negative as simple negative, she reduces faintest to faint, and achieves a more positive degree of comparison. Did I say double negatives suck?

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