What Are Comparison Forms?

Welcome, to the greatest and most important lesson about adjectives ever! Okay, not quite, but it’s on-topic. Today, we’re learning all about German comparative and superlative forms—also known as comparison forms! 

Was ist das (what's that), you ask?

"Comparison forms" are how to compare things to one another. It’s about how some things are “more than” or “just like” another thing, and sometimes they are “the most” or “the least”.

"Comparison forms" are the ways we compare one thing to another thing, or all things. 

Let’s take a closer look.

Comparative And Superlative Adjectives in German

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, just kidding. 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!

1.) Positive Form

The “positive” form of an adjective is just the normal adjective. When you look up an adjective in the dictionary, that's the form you find. “Positive” doesn’t mean it’s good or friendly, it just means that the adjective has its normal meaning and nothing is changing. 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.

2.) Comparative Form

The comparative form makes something “more” than something else.

Mostly, it is formed by adding -er to the end of the word. If the word only has one 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 rather because it’s a one-syllable word. 

3.) Superlative Form

The superlative form makes something “the most”.

Here, we add-(e)sten” to the end of the adjective. Just like the comparative form, the word also gets an umlaut if it’s only one syllable long. Additionally, we will use the ending -esten if the adjective's positive form ends in -d, -t, -s, -sch, -z, or -x

Let's look at a few examples:

  • Mein Kreis ist am rundesten. (My circle is the roundest)
  • Das Wetter ist im Januar am kältesten. (Summer in August is the best.)
  • Seine Haut ist am blassesten. (His skin is the palest.)
  • Die Tomaten sind am frischesten. (The tomatoes are the freshest.)
  • Die Pause scheint bei schönem Wetter am kürzesten. (The break seems shortest when the weather is nice.)
  • Seine Frage war am komplexesten. (His question was the most complex.)

Now, when we look at other kinds of adjectives, we see that the ending shortens to just -sten.

  • 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. (On hot days Katie likes swimming the most.)

Gestern war es am wärmsten.

(Yesterday it was the warmest.)

Did you see that? 

Some sneaky little word is crashing the party. If the adjective is not in front of a noun, we add the word “am” in front. This means it is actually modifying the verb, so it is an "adverbial adjective". When we do that, we also always use the “-sten” ending.

But wait! Sometimes, the superlative form can also end in -ste!

When we do put the adjective in front of a noun, the adjective will end in “-e” or “-en” according to the rules for "weak" adjective endings. For example:

  • Heute war der wärmste Tag des Sommers. (Today was the warmest day of the summer.)
  • Gogo ging zu der besten Party. (Gogo went to the best party.)
  • The comparative form (more/less than) uses the ending -er.
  • The superlative form (the most, the least) mostly uses the ending -sten. If the main adjective ends in -d, -t, -s, -sch, -z, or -x, the adjective will use the ending -esten.
  • The superlative form in front of an adjective in the superlative form, we add the word am in front.
  • German comparative and superlative forms add an umlaut to the word if it only has one syllable, and the syllable contains the vowels -a-, -o-, or -u-.

How To Combine Adjective Endings With Comparative and Superlative Endings in German

Do you remember our post in the series, where we talked about adjective declensions? 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 student.

We use both, of course. 

how to decline german comparative adjectives

Warum einfach, wenn es auch komplizierter geht?

(Why simple if more complicated is also possible?)

This is where it gets a little more complicated. You have to remember what goes where, but the rules are pretty simple. There are only a handful of exceptions, and we’ll get to those at the end. 

When we use two adjective-endings at the same time, we put...

  • the comparative one first, and put...
  • the declension ending last.

For example:

  • In Arizona gibt es noch viel heißere Tage als hier. (There are much hotter days in Arizona than here.)
  • Katie erlebte noch wärmeres Wetter in Australien. (Katie experienced even warmer weather in Australia.)
  • Gogo mag die kühleren Tage lieber. (Gogo prefers the cooler days.)

→ The comparative endings are in blue, with the declension endings 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?

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 lang wie der Tag davor. (Everyday is as long as the day before it.)
  • Das Wetter ist gleich warm wie gestern. (The weather is just as warm as yesterday.)
  • Der Kaffee ist genauso schlecht wie immer. (The coffee is as bad as always.)

German comparison of equality with "genauso wie"

(You look just like me!)

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 gut wie das letzte Mal? (Why aren't you doing it just as well as 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’re 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, which then leads to some regional differences in Standard German as well.

So, even Germans don't always follow the rules here. 

Don't worry though, the rules aren't really that complicated at all.

  • When something is different, we usealsand the comparative form.
  • When is the same, we always use “wieand the positive form.

We do this in English too, so we can also just translate the words directly to help make sense of it. Check out the examples below, wie means “like” or “as” in English, and als means “than”.

  • Heute ist es genauso warm wie gestern. (Today it's as warm as yesterday.)
  • Der August ist wärmer als der Juli. (August is warmer than July.)

Another Way to Remember:

All of the letters in "wie" are of like height, but the L in "als" is taller than the others.

Unique Comparative And Superlative Forms In German

German comparison forms of adjectives mostly play by the rules, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any 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.

Irregular German Comparative And Superlative Forms - With Sound Changes

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 omitted for easier pronunciation.

groß (big) - größer (bigger) - am größten (biggest)

  • Die Party nächste Woche wird groß. (The party next week is going to be big.) 
  • Die Party ist noch größer als die vom letzten Jahr. (The party is even bigger than last year's.)   
  • Die Muppets Party war am größten. (The Muppets' party was the biggest.)

→ 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.

Die Muppets Party war am größten.

(The Muppets party was the biggest.)

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 “-c-” in the comparative form. Of course, it comes back in the superlative form.

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.)

→ Here, we add an umlaut to the comparative and superlative forms (no exception since it's a one-syllable adjective with the vowel -a-). The exception is in the superlative form, where we add a "-c-".

Unique German Comparative And 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.)

gern (gladly) - lieber (rather) - am liebsten (most gladly/preferentially)

  • Er geht nicht gern arbeiten. (He doesn't like to go to work.)
  • Er bleibt lieber zuhause. (He would rather stay home.)
  • Am liebsten steigt Gogo aber nicht einmal aus dem Bett. (Gogo's favorite thing would be not to get out of bed at all.)

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.)

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 German comparative and superlative forms Congratulations on making it through!

Oh, you want more? Then, make sure to take our quiz to test your understanding of German comparison forms!

Exercises: German Comparative And Superlative Forms

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