A superlative is an adjective or adverb which expresses that something is of the highest or a very high degree of a particular quality. Most superlatives use the suffix -est or are made through combination with the word most: examples include best, smartest, shortest, most clever, and most foolish.
Superlatives are usually limited by clarifying that the object being described is part of a narrower category. For example:
Gabrielle was the smartest person Jun had met in his two years at the university.
Jun is the most stubborn man at this school.
This place has the best ice cream in town.
People almost always limit superlatives in this way to keep their expressions from being hyperbolic or ridiculous, or simply to be precise. However, I often see writers doing this unintentionally. For example:
Prince Samuel paused, his breath catching in his throat. Across the ballroom stood the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in a sky-blue dress.
You see the problem, right? The author was trying to convey two things: first, that this woman was the most beautiful woman that Samuel had ever seen; and second, that she was wearing a blue dress. But by combining these two facts into one statement, the author inadvertently ended up sounding like a Flight of the Conchords song:
I see these sorts of unintentionally limited superlative statements with surprising frequency. The obvious problem with them is they tend to take a serious statement—one meant to convey a character’s awe or surprise—and turn it into something comical.
So how can you fix these sorts of sentences? Contrary to what many writers seem to think, a comma is not the best way to fix the problem:
Prince Samuel paused, his breath catching in his throat. Across the ballroom stood the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, in a sky-blue dress.
Now it looks like you’re just saying the same thing, but with poor punctuation. The best way to fix unintentionally limited superlatives is to separate the extra description out into its own sentence:
Prince Samuel paused, his breath catching in his throat. Across the ballroom stood the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her golden hair cascaded in curls over her shoulders, and she wore a sky-blue dress that sparkled with hidden gems.
Keep an eye out for this in your writing; if you want to hunt down any superlatives in your story, you can do searches for “most” and for “est ” (with a space at the end) to get it done quickly.