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Why can "low" become lower (comparative) and lowest (superlative), while "up" can become only comparative (upper), rather than superlative (uppest)?

The second question is what does act as a substitute for superlative of "up"? I believe that it's needed in the language.


Editing: After reading some answers here who claim that the word "up" is not an adjective and "upper" is not the opposite of "lower". I had to support my initial premise by Cambridge dictionary that shows that there is an adjective which is called "up". In addition in the same dictionary the word "upper" is marked as adjective and the word "lower" is marked there as a opposite. unlike the most of the answers here.

In addition, what's about "more up" is the following context "If you feel a bit depressed today, maybe your mood will tomorrow be more up." Is this not considered as a comparative adjective of "up"?

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    Rather than uppest, uppermost is used. Similarly, lowermost can be used as an alternative for lowest. It is possible, though I cannot say, that lowest is a contraction. – Willtech Apr 26 '18 at 11:02
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Well, the opposite of low isn't up but high, which has the comparative higher and the superlative highest. So they're equivalent in that regard.

The opposite of up would be down. But up and down when used to describe relative directions are adverbs, not adjectives, and they don't have direct comparative and superlative forms (unlike say, badly, worse, and worst). While I don't see anything technically wrong with saying more/most up/down, that's not something you really hear in practice. Instead we can say something is farther up/down or farthest up/down.

Upper is a plain adjective, not a comparative. You can say: John is in upper management, but you wouldn't say John is upper than Jim. Also, while downer is a word, it's a slang noun and not an adjective. downest is generally not recognized as a word as far as I know, but neither is uppest.

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    It's confusing, but when used in phrases like upper jaw and lower jaw, upper and lower aren't comparatives but are plain adjectives that describe a trait of an object without regards to comparison to another, like big or small. So upper and lower are opposites, but only in that regard. up and low aren't since up is a noun and low is an adjective. It's best to think of upper and lower as distinct words from up and low rather than a special form of those words. (Although, yes, the comparative form of low happens to be lower). – dbb Apr 24 '18 at 3:10
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    You can't really say more/most up/down because up and down are nouns not adjectives (in the sense we're using them here; up and down both have related adjectival definitions, which have similar but distinct meanings from how we're using them). – dbb Apr 24 '18 at 3:15
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    +1, though the up and down in farther/farthest up/down are actually not nouns, but rather intransitive prepositions. (And in traditional grammars that don't accept the notion of intransitive prepositions, they're considered adverbs.) – ruakh Apr 24 '18 at 6:28
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    @Rosie: Firstly, the concept is much older than you think; but secondly, in the very comment you're replying to, I also indicated how other grammars handle them. So your fears are unwarranted. – ruakh Apr 24 '18 at 8:05
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    @subtle_sibling Two of the three meanings of up as an adjective do not match what you are asking about here: they are absolutes, not gradable. An escalator is either an up escalator or a down escalator, and a computer system is either up or down—what would a ‘more up’ escalator or a ‘more up system’ even be? The third one (‘feeling happy’) can be used comparatively or superlatively, but it’s quite rare; see Kevin’s comment above. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 27 '18 at 10:33
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The word you're looking for is uppermost or upmost:

adjective
Highest in place, rank, or importance.

adverb
At or to the highest or most important position.
Oxford Dictionaries

There are a number of words like this that end in "-most" such as: uttermost/utmost (from "utter", which itself is from "out"), innermost, outermost, and lowermost (which is synonymous with "lowest").

Etymologically, the suffix "-most" is related to the suffix "-est". If you're curious, here's the etymology of "-most" given by the Oxford English Dictionary:

Cognate with Gothic -umist- , a superlative suffix found in six adjectives (e.g. auhumists highest, cognate with Old English ȳmest ) < the Germanic base of the superlative suffix in -m- attested in Old English forma first, hindema last ( < the same Indo-European base as the suffix attested in classical Latin prīmus prime adj.) + the Germanic base of -est suffix

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    Uppermost is superlative but there is no comparative. – Pharap Apr 24 '18 at 11:46
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    Also note that the opposite of uppermost or upmost is lowermost or downmost; even here, we don't make an antonym of upmost by replacing "up" by "low". – David K Apr 24 '18 at 13:02
  • So how can I make a comparative sentence regarding to the word "up"? Should I say it's more up or what? – Judicious Allure Apr 28 '18 at 4:13
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As was pointed out, "up" and "low" are not direct antonyms.

The antonymn of "up" is "down". Neither of these have a comparative or superlative form.
Note that "downer" and "upper" are existing words, but are not listed as a comparative form.

The antonym of "low" is "high". Both of these have a comparative (lower/higher) and superlative (lowest/highest).


There is one case I can think of where "up" and "low" are opposites of each other: uppercase (ABCDE..., also known as capital letters) and lowercase (abcde...).

Fun fact!

Individual pieces of metal type [which is a "letter stamp" used by printing presses] were kept in boxes called cases. The smaller letters, which were used most often, were kept in a lower case [e.g. the bottom shelf] that was easier to reach. Capital letters, which were used less frequently, were kept in an upper case [e.g. the top shelf]. Because of this old storage convention, we still refer to small letters as lowercase and capital letters as uppercase.

Notice that "upper" is used here. While it's not grammatically the comparative of "up", "upper" by itself is still a valid word that fits in this situation:

Upper

  1. Situated above another part.
    1.1. Higher in position or status.
  2. Situated on higher ground.
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    I was going to post that your fun fact was a false etymology, because most of these stories of word histories on the internet that sound too pat to be true really are just totally made up, but to my shock, the O.E.D. agrees with you. I'm definitely glad to have been wrong about this one. What a nifty and unexpected fun fact! :) Thanks for sharing. – Ben I. Apr 25 '18 at 4:02
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    @BenI.: I'm similarly cynical; I spent some time checking this before I wanted to add it to my answer ;) – Flater Apr 25 '18 at 7:34
  • Prior to these physical cases of letter stamps, you still had a notion of capital and smaller letters, right? What were they referred to as? Capital letters and... small letters? Normal letters? – ArtOfWarfare Apr 25 '18 at 18:55
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    @ArtOfWarfare I'm pretty sure the technical term for them is minuscule (lower) and majuscule (upper). French still uses these names today. – Flater Apr 25 '18 at 19:45
  • Please, read the editing in the original post. According to Cambridge dictionary the opposite of "upper" is "lower". – Judicious Allure Apr 29 '18 at 2:34
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@dbb and @laurel have explained things perfectly, I only wish to complement and expand on their excellent answers.

Upper belongs to a category of English comparatives that are either losing or have lost their comparative meaning and are mainly used as positive. Excluding old and elder, the next six examples also have more than one superlative.

upper (adj.)
c. 1300, originally comparative of up (adj.). Similar formation in Middle Dutch upper, Dutch opper, Low German upper, Norwegian yppare.

Source: Etymonline

inner, outer, utter, and upper

POSITIVE.      COMPARATIVE.      SUPERLATIVE.

old             older              oldest
 –              elder              eldest

 _              former           foremost, first

in (adverb)     inner            inmost, innermost

out (adverb)    outer            outmost, outermost

 –              utter            utmost, uttermost

up (adverb)     upper            upmost, uppermost 

low             lower            lowest, lowermost

Digging deeper, I found the following excerpt, edition 1865, which observes that upper is used differently from most comparative adjectives. Note that neither lower nor higher are included in this list.

Obs 4 – It may be remarked of the comparatives former and latter or hinder, upper and under or nether, inner and outer or utter after and hither; as well as of the Latin superior and inferior, anterior and posterior, interior and exterior, prior and ulterior, senior and junior, major and minor; that they cannot, like other comparatives, be construed with the conjunction than, introducing the latter term of comparison; for we never say “one thing is former, superior, etc., THAN an other”

Higher is not always the opposite of lower.

We can talk about the lower site and the upper site of an institution. In the UK, lower school will cater to children between the ages of 4 and 9, middle school from 9 to 11, while the Upper school will educate students between the ages of 11 and 18. (Wikipedia)

In medicine, we talk about the upper limb; the arm, forearm and hand, and the lower limb; thigh, leg and foot. In anatomy, "upper" refers to the POSITION above another part (i.e., superior), “my upper lip is sore”, while lower refers to the position below another part (i.e.inferior) “his lower lip was swollen”. If humans possessed four lips, we could say (I'm not saying we do) the lip positioned above all the others uppermost, whilst the bottom lip would be the lowermost (lowest).

Up and Down

You turn up the volume to hear better. (turn up =increase)
You turn down the sound when the neighbours complain. (turn down =decrease)

You climb up a mountain in the morning
You climb down before it gets dark

You go up to town if you live outside the city
You go down to town (or downtown) if you live nearby. (But there's some debate over its semantics)

In none of these instances is "up" or "down" an adjective. If I climb up something, it tells you in which direction I am climbing.

Cambridge Dictionary tells us

We use low for things which are not high, or which are close to the ground or to the bottom of something:

  1. We have a sofa, two armchairs and a low table.

  2. The wall is too low; we need to make it higher so the dog can’t get out.

Comparing low and high

Two mountain climbers are resting, they are at two different points. Mountaineer A is positioned at 2,000m while mountaineer B is at 2,500m.

  • A is lower down.
  • B is higher up.

Alternatively

But if the two were descending:

  • A would be further down the mountain. (i.e heading down or downwards)

However, I should point out that the latter is more commonly used for horizontal distances, e.g.

further down the path
further down the stream
further down the line

  • Please, see my editing. Second, it's not only in medicine. See here: dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/upper "upper floor" (and it makes sense for "lower floors" as well) – Judicious Allure Apr 29 '18 at 2:32
  • @subtle_sibling I think you need to read the first paragraph more carefully, I never said that upper is used only in medicine. In fact, I gave two other examples, "upper site" and "upper school" – Mari-Lou A Apr 29 '18 at 4:26
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    "If humans possessed three lips, we could say the lip positioned above the other two as uppermost, whilst the bottom lip would be the lowermost." Noooo... the abdomen is composed of three regions, the upper abdomen, the middle or mid-abdominal region, and the lower abdomen. I can't think of a thing in medicine which is "lowermost". Lowest, or deepest, yes. But I live in the US; maybe the Brits say lowermost. – anongoodnurse Apr 29 '18 at 22:43
  • "If humans possessed three lips, we could say the lip positioned above the other two as uppermost" It's an option, and I mentioned it to illustrate the meaning of uppermost. If humans had three lips we would most probably say: bottom (lip), middle (lip), and top (lip). The dictionary definition of uppermost is At or nearest the top of something – Mari-Lou A May 5 '18 at 6:49
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These are different types of words entirely

To put the already re-iterated answer a different way: this is a bit like asking

Why can this tiger roar when that cucumber consists mostly of water?

The objects tiger and cucumber are only remotely related, in this case by virtue of both (at least having been) alive, and in your question by virtue of both having to do with three-dimensional space.

The difference

Up defines a direction in three-dimensional space, is (in the context of your question) an adverb (and sometimes a noun), and is not comparable (nouns are, of course, never comparable). Hence the words upper and uppermost are not inflections of the adverb up; in fact, the adjective upper is the positive inflection of the comparative uppermore and superlative uppermost. Incidentally, upper is also sometimes used as a noun.

Low defines a (usually relative) position in three-dimensional space, is an adjective, and is comparable. Hence it has the comparative inflection lower and superlative inflection lowest.

Examples showing the usage of upper (and its inflections), as requested

I will use similar sentences to illustrate the usage of all three inflections.

Upper: I think I will take an upper bunk tonight.

In this sentence, I am saying that I intend to not use the bottom bunk. In the case of having only two bunks stacked on top of each other, upper and uppermost are analogous. However, if there were three bunks stacked on top of each other, an upper bunk would simply designate one of the bunks that is not the bottom bunk, ie. either the second from the top or the top bunk.


Uppermore: Carl will sleep in an uppermore bunk tonight.

Imagine a room with bunks stacked four high, and that last night, Carl slept in the second bunk from the bottom. This sentences states that Carl will, tonight, sleep in a bunk that is further from the ground (than his previous one), but not necessarily the...


Uppermost: You should take the uppermost bunk tonight.

Imagine a room with bunks stacked as high as you would like. No matter how many bunks are stacked on top of each other, the uppermost bunk will always refer to the top (or topmost, which is a viable, and maybe even more common, alternative to uppermost) bunk.

  • Thank you for your answer. So can we say that the adjective "upper" is the positive (or the base form) while the comparative is uppermore and the superlative is the uppermost? I'd like to see examples for those three. – Judicious Allure Apr 28 '18 at 6:20
  • Yes, you have hit the nail square on the head, upper is indeed the base form of the adjective. However, as will be explained in my edited answer, its usage sometimes suggests otherwise. – Bjonnfesk Apr 28 '18 at 6:28
  • @subtle_sibling check my updated answer for examples. – Bjonnfesk Apr 28 '18 at 6:56
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    There are no results for "uppermore" in Oxford Dictionaries, in OALD, Cambridge Dic. or Macmillan Dic. – Mari-Lou A Apr 28 '18 at 18:41
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    Please support the claim that the sentence "…take the uppermore bunk…" is ever used, in speech or writing. – Mari-Lou A Apr 28 '18 at 18:46
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As others have pointed out opposite of low is not up, its high, and high can be "higher" and "highest"

The better question is: Why are up, and down so different. You have an "upper" level ..not a "downer" level, and you go up to the top and down to the bottom.. but downer has a whole new meaning not related really to physical height, direction or value, that up and down are associated with.

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Up and Down are directions, whereas High and Low are vectors.

You can tell someone to go in a particular direction for a certain distance, but the direction itself doesn't imply how far one should go. So you could say something like "Turn left and walk for 200 meters", but here "Turn left" doesn't say anything about how far you should go, just the direction in which to travel.

High and Low, on the other hand, have both direction and (relative) magnitude. So something like "the bird flew higher than a 747" tells you the position of the bird in relation to a 747.

There's no need for a word like 'uppest' because the word 'up' doesn't even tell you the position of an object at all, so how can something be 'upper'?

  • Thank you for your answer, but I have to admit that although I read your answer again and again, I didn't understand it at all. Of course, I know what direction and vectors are, but couldn't do the relation between the terms up, down, high and low. In addition, Can you support your claim that "Up and Down are directions, whereas High and Low are vectors" by a reference? – Judicious Allure Apr 30 '18 at 12:44

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