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According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, super- is a prefix meaning either "bigger, better, or more important than others of the same kind" or "superior in position or rank." The following is a pair of typical examples of how the prefix affects the meaning and word class of a word:

superpower

noun

1: excessive or superior power

2: an extremely powerful nation

and

superpowerful

adjective

extremely powerful.

As we see, under the addition of the prefix, the word class is preserved, and the meaning changes accordingly.

However, I found the following example, which seems inconsistent with the expected pattern:

superstrength

adjective

having extremely great strength.

We see that adding the prefix changes the word class of "strength" from noun to adjective. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that we have the following word with the same meaning but complying with the expected pattern:

superstrong

Adjective

extremely strong.

So, the following questions arise:

  • Is this unusual behavior of the formation of "superstrength" not inconsistent with prescribed grammar rules?
  • If not, why do we need the word "superstrength" while the word "superstrong" has the same meaning and usage?

Addendum

  • As there are opinions suggesting that usage of the word "superstrength" seems somewhat incorrect or informal, let me add the following sentence from an article of Scientific American Magazine, which inspired me to post this question here:

The moon has an abundance of raw materials that could be processed to yield aluminum, ceramics and superstrength glasses for the construction of telescopes.[emphasis added]

  • It seems that a crucial point of this post might not be apparent enough to be dealt with, so let me highlight it here. I mentioned the typical example involving the word "power", which is similar to "strength" in meaning. I indicated that by adding the prefix "super-" to "power" we get a noun from a noun, and to "powerful" we get an adjective from an adjective, noting that the obtained words get meanings we already expect. So, I expected that the same situation should happen to the word "strength." I wonder why my expectation turned to be wrong. In other words, what is the difference between the words "power" and "strength" so that they display different behaviors when adding the prefix "super-"?
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    @MichaelHarvey - But high-strength is used attributively, so why not superstrength? Dec 21, 2023 at 13:05
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    I think using "super" as a general-purpose intensifier is a bit "downmarket" (Download our super easy app from our super good website). So regardless of whether they're fused into single-word terms, there's not much meaning to pronouncements about "correct usage" with superstrong / superstrength. Correct usage would be things like very strong and (possibly hyphenated) high strength. Dec 21, 2023 at 13:29
  • @FumbleFingers Thank you for sharing your opinion. I added the sentence in which I saw that word.
    – Later
    Dec 21, 2023 at 14:47
  • You don't need to provide a link to prove that attributive "superstrength" does occur occasionally. That's not in dispute. But as this usage chart, none of superstrength glasses, super strength glasses or super-strength glasses occur often enough in print to show on the chart, because it's too "casual". To be "correct", use (optionally hyphenated) high strength glasses. Dec 21, 2023 at 18:13
  • What does "while having superstrong" mean??
    – Lambie
    Dec 22, 2023 at 16:50

2 Answers 2

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Superstrength is a fairly casual noun for talking about what Superman and Mr Incredible have.

Like many nouns, it can be used attributively, in this case usually in a hyperbolic way. "Buy this superstrength kitchen paper".

Many dictionaries (including M-W) call nouns used attributively "adjectives". "Superstrength" probably isn't an adjective, as it can't form a comparative (it doesn't have the morphology of an adjective) and it can't be modified by adverbs (it doesn't have the syntax of an adjective). You can't say "more superstrength than" or "very superstrength".

Unless you are talking about Mr Incredible, avoid words like "superstrength". They sound rather silly in most contexts.

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  • Thank you for your answer. As far as I know, not all adjectives can be modified/intensified; for example, absolute adjective such as "dead" cannot be modified or intensified. Regarding your final point, I added the sentence in which I saw that word to the OP.
    – Later
    Dec 21, 2023 at 14:51
  • Even for the "supers," I would render "superstrength" as "super strength", or possibly "super-strength." Dec 21, 2023 at 15:27
  • The prohibition on "very dead" is because that is an oxymoron, not because dead isn't an adjective. "very dead" is like "green ideas".
    – James K
    Dec 21, 2023 at 18:21
  • I think that the word "dead", as one example of many, cannot be intensified by "very" because "dead" is an absolute adjective. Anyway, do you agree with me that impossibility of intensifying a word by, say, "very" does not necessarily implies that the word is not an adjective, because there are absolute adjectives that cannot be intensified?
    – Later
    Dec 22, 2023 at 16:16
  • By the way, you noted that many dictionaries call nouns used attributively adjectives. I cannot grasp your point. Many nouns can be used attributively while they are marked noun in dictionaries. Please also see my second point in the addendum section.
    – Later
    Dec 22, 2023 at 16:58
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Despite the definition you provided, I think superstrength is a noun, not an adjective. Superstrong is the adjective.

This glue has superstrength.

This glue is superstrong.

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