Superlative is the grammatical term used to translate “most + adjective.” In Japanese 一番 (ICHIBAN) is used to build superlative structures. 一番 means “number one,” “most,” “best,” etc.

一番かわいい: The cutest
一番遠い: The furthest

If we examine the concept of superlative, we realize that it’s a comparison between an element (the best) and other elements of the same group. That comparison can be more explicit when using の中で (NO NAKA DE) or the particle で (DE) to identify the group. We then get phrases like “the most... among...”, “most… of all...”, etc.

Nihon de ichiban hayai densha wa shinkansen desu.
The fastest train in Japan is the Shinkansen.

Yamaguchi kun wa yonin no naka de ichiban rikou da yo.
Yamaguchi-kun is the most intelligent of the four.

Mami chan wa koukou de ichiban kawaii.
Mami-chan is the cutest in the high school.

一番 can be replaced by 最も (MOTTOMO), which means “extremely” or “most.” But be careful, the latter is more formal and is rather used in written communication.

Efferutou wa pari de mottomo yuumei na kankou meisho da.
The Eiffel Tower is the most famous touristic place in Paris.

Watashi wa subete no kyouka no naka de kagaku ga mottomo suki desu.
Among all the subjects, it’s chemistry that I love the most.

Further information

In addition to the structure “一番 + adjective,” some Japanese words bear the concept of superlative by themselves. Those words are built on this pattern:

最 + Kanji that is found in the adjective expressed

Now, the Kanji 最 is no longer pronounced MOTTO as seen above, but SAI! Also keep in mind that this structure is not always possible. Here are some examples:

最小 (さいしょう) The smallest
最低 (さいてい) The lowest, the worst
最短 (さいたん) The shortest
最古 (さいこ) The oldest
最遠 (さいえん) The farthest
最少 (さいしょう) The smallest number (of…)
最初 (さいしょ) The first
最悪 (さいあく) The worst
最弱 (さいじゃく) The weakest
最大 (さいだい) The biggest, the maximum
最高 (さいこう) The highest, the best
最長 (さいちょう) The longest
最新 (さいしん) Brand new, most recent
最近 (さいきん) Recently, these days
最多 (さいた) The largest number (of…)
最後 (さいご) The last
最良 (さいりょう) The best
最強 (さいきょう) The strongest

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