What are Comparison Forms?
Welcome, wonderful student, to the greatest and most important lesson about adjectives ever! Okay, that might be debatable, but it’s on-topic. Today, we’re learning all about German comparison forms.
Was ist das (what's that), you ask?
"Comparison forms" are the ways we compare one thing to another thing, or even all things! It’s about how some things are “more than” or “just like” another thing, and sometimes they are “the most” or “the least”.
Let’s take a closer look.
Comparative and superlative adjectives
The most direct way to modify adjectives so they can help us compare things is to use their comparative and superlative forms. Now hold on to your hat, because things are about to get wild.
Wait, nope, I lied. It’s just two simple word-endings for 3 different types of adjectives, and they’re almost exactly the same as in English. Check it out!
The “positive” form of an adjective is just the normal adjective. “Positive” doesn’t mean it’s good or friendly, it just means that the adjective has its normal meaning and nothing is changing or negating it. A quick example:
- Das Wetter ist heute warm. (The weather is warm today.)
- Der Kaffee ist frisch. (The coffee is fresh.)
- Die Katze ist süß. (The cat is cute.)
That’s it. Simple, right? Let’s move on.
The comparative form makes something “more” than something else. Mostly, we do that by adding -er to the end of the word. If the word only has 1 syllable, we also give it an umlaut where possible (when there is an a, o, or u). For instance:
- Das Wetter ist heute wärmer. (The weather is warmer today.)
- Dieser Kaffee ist frischer. (This coffee is fresher.)
- Das Kätzchen ist süßer. (The kitten is cuter.)
Notice that “warm” in the first example gets an umlaut, because it’s our favorite. Or because it’s a 1-syllable word.
The superlative form makes something “the most”. Here, we add “-ste(n)” to the end of the adjective. You use the “-e” or “-en” at the end according to the rules for "weak" adjective endings that we talked about in our post over here. Just like the comparative form, the word also gets an umlaut if it’s only one syllable long. It looks like this:
- Katie meint, dass heute der wärmste Tag des ganzen Sommers ist. (Katie says that today is the warmest day of the entire summer.)
- Bobbi sagt, dass es vorgestern am wärmsten war. (Bobbi says that the day before yesterday was the warmest.)
- Katie mag an heißen Tagen am liebsten schwimmen. (Katie likes swimming on hot days the most.)
Did you see that?
Some sneaky little word is crashing the party. If there is no article in front of the adjective, we add the word “am” in front. When we do that, we also always use the “-sten” ending.
How to decline comparative adjectives
Alright, so you might remember our last post in the series, where we talked about adjective declensions (the word-endings that we put on adjectives that go right in front of a noun).
If you do, you might be wondering, “Hey, if I’ve already got a fancy word ending stuck to the end of my word, what am I supposed to do with this other one?”
Very good question, my brilliant, attentive student.
We use both, of course.
This is where it gets a little more complicated, sort of. You have to remember what goes where, but the rules are pretty reliable here. There are only a handful of exceptions, and we’ll get to those at the end.
When we need to use two word-endings at the same time, we put the comparative one first, and hang the declination on the end. For example:
- Bobbi behauptet, in Arizona gäbe es noch viel heißere Tage als hier. (Bobbi claims that there are much hotter days in Arizona than here.)
- Katie war schonmal in Australien, und kennt sich mit noch wärmerem Wetter aus. (Katie has been to Australia, and is familiar with even warmer weather.)
- Gogo wünscht sich kühleres Wetter. (Gogo wishes for cooler weather.)
The comparative endings are in blue, with the declination coming right after.
Comparison forms for equality or inequality in German
Alright, so now we know how to use grammatical forms to say that something is “more” or “most”, but that doesn’t cover all of the ways we can compare things.
What happens when we want to say that something is like another thing? Don’t worry, it’s as easy as a creamy lemon French butternut apple pie!
Talking about similarities
When we want to say that something is similar or the same as something else, we use “so wie”, “genauso wie” and “gleich wie”. Without an adjective between them, these phrases just tell us that something is like something else, for example:
- Jeder Tag ist so wie der Tag davor. (Everyday is like the day before it.)
- Das Wetter ist gleich wie gestern. (The weather is the same as yesterday.)
- Der Kaffee ist genauso wie immer. (The coffee is the same as always.)
If we add an adjective, or even a whole phrase in between the words, we can be more specific, like this:
- Mein Hund ist so groß wie ein Pferd. (My dog is as big as a horse.)
- Gogos neue Arbeit ist genauso weit von seiner Wohnung entfernt wie sein letzter Job. (Gogos new workplace is just as far away from his apartment as his last job.)
- Katie arbeitet mehr, hat aber irgendwie gleich viel Freizeit wie Gogo. (Katie works more, but somehow has just as much free time as Gogo.)
When we look at the English translations, you might notice that the same kinds of words go mostly in the same places as in English. Neat right?
Negating comparisons of equality
Now, let’s talk about negating these kinds of comparisons. Everything isn’t necessarily like everything else, after all. Luckily, it’s exactly as simple as it sounds.
If we want to say that something is not like something else, we just add “nicht” in front of the comparison. For example:
- Mein Hund ist nicht so groß wie ein Pferd. (My dog is not as big as a horse.)
- Warum machst du es nicht genauso wie das letzte Mal? (Why don’t you do it just like last time?)
- Dieses Haus ist nicht gleich hoch wie die anderen. (This house is not the same height as the others.)
How to tell when you should use “wie” or “als” with German comparison forms
If you were looking closely at our earlier examples, you probably noticed that we use “wie” in some examples and “als” in others.
If you’ve been talking to actual Germans in the wild, the difference between these two words can be especially hard to pin down. Some regional German dialects don’t use “als” at all, so even Germans don't always follow the rules here.
Don't worry though, the rules aren't really that complicated at all.
- When we compare differences (comparative and superlative) we always use “als”.
- When we compare similarities (comparison of equality) we always use “wie”.
We do this in English too, so we can also just translate the words directly to help make sense of it. “Wie” means “like” or “as” in English, and “als” means “than”.
Irregular Comparative Forms
German comparison forms of adjectives mostly play by the rules, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions. We already covered these in our post on different types of adjectives, but I’ll put them here again just in case you haven’t read that one yet.
Comparatives with irregular sound changes
Have no fear, not all of the exceptions are tricky. Most irregular adjectives just have some unusual sound changes to keep track of, like these right here:
teuer (expensive) - teurer (more expensive) - am teuersten (most expensive)
- Bobbis erstes Auto war nicht teuer. (Bobbi's first car was not expensive)
- Das Auto ist teurer als sein Altes. (The car is more expensive than his old one.)
- Der BMW war am teuersten, aber den wollte Bobbi nicht. (The BMW was the most expensive, but Bobbi didn't want it.)
According to the rules, teuer should become “teuerer”, but the ‘e’ in front of the ‘r’ is deleted instead.
groß (big) - größer (bigger) - am größten (biggest)
- Bald ist eine große Party. (There's going to be a big party soon.)
- Die Party ist noch größer als die vom letzten Jahr. (The party is even bigger than last year's.)
- Gogo geht zu der größten Party aller Zeiten. (Gogo is going to the biggest party of all time.)
Instead of using the superlative -esten that usually comes after s-sounds, this adjective wants to be like all the other adjectives that just use -sten.
hoch (tall/high) - höher (taller/higher) - am höchsten (tallest/highest)
- Der Turm is sehr hoch. (The tower is very tall.)
- Der Fernsehturm ist höher als die anderen Gebäude beim Alexanderplatz. (The Fernsehturm is taller than the other buildings at Alexanderplatz.)
- Von allen Restaurants in Berlin, ist das im Fernsehturm am höchsten. (Of all the restaurants in Berlin, the one in the Fernsehturm is the highest.)
Instead of just gaining an umlaut, “hoch” also loses the “ch” sound in the comparative form. Of course, it comes back in the superlative form.
German comparison forms with unique comparative or superlative forms
Lastly, we have the most unique characters among all German adjectives. These just threw all the rules out the window, and decided to swap in entirely different root forms.
gut (good) - besser (better) - am besten (best)
- Tee ist gut. (Tea is good.)
- Kaffee schmeckt besser. (Coffee tastes better.)
- Der Arzt behauptet aber, dass Wasser am besten ist. (The doctor claims that water is best, though.)
viel (much) - mehr (more) - am meisten (the most)
- Bobbi hat viel gearbeitet. (Bobbi has done a lot of work.)
- Er muss heute noch mehr arbeiten. (He needs to work even more today.)
- Am Wochenende arbeitet er am meisten. (On the weekends, he works the most.)
nah (close) - näher (closer) - am nächsten (closest)
- Mein Bruder ist mir nah. (My brother and I are close.)
- Meine Schwester ist mir näher. (My sister and I are closer.)
- Meine Eltern sind mir am nächsten. (My parents are the closest to me.)
As you can tell, they don’t really modify the positive form at all. Instead, they use totally different words, just like we do in English with good/better/best.
Speaking of best, you did a fantastic job today! Top of the class, that’s you! That’s it for comparison forms in German. Congratulations on making it through!