The comparative of adjectives and adverbs shows a comparison between two persons or objects.
John is taller than Mary. Mary runs faster than John.
The superlative describes the ultimate degree or quality of adjectives and adverbs.
John is the tallest man in town. Mary runs the fastest of anyone on the team.
German uses comparatives and superlatives in the same way. But they are formed uniquely. Also remember that comparatives and superlatives can be adjectives. That means they can have adjective endings and must conform to the gender, number, and case of the nouns they modify.
The basic German form of comparative adjectives and adverbs is the attachment of the suffix -er to the adjective or adverb. For example:
klein kleiner smaller
reich reicher richer
schnell schneller faster
Some adjectives and adverbs add an umlaut to the vowel in the adjective or adverb when forming the comparative. The following is a list of some of the commonly used adjectives and adverbs that require an umlaut in the comparative form.
alt älter older
arm ärmer poorer
dumm dümmer more stupid
grob gröber coarser
hart härter harder
jung jünger younger
kalt kälter colder
klug klüger smarter
krank kränker sicker
kurz kürzer shorter
lang länger longer
schwach schwächer weaker
stark stärker stronger
warm wärmer warmer
Notice that these adjectives and adverbs are one-syllable words. When a comparative is used as an adjective, it will have an adjective ending except when it is a predicate adjective.
Kennst du den älteren Jungen? Do you know the older boy?
Mein Bruder ist viel stärker. My brother is a lot stronger.
When it is an adverb, it will have no ending.
Tina kann schneller laufen. Tina can run faster.
When an adjective or adverb ends in -el, -en, or -er, it drops the final -e- before adding the comparative suffix -er.
dunkel dunkler darker
teuer teurer more expensive
trocken trockner drier
A few comparatives have an irregular form. Fortunately, the list is short.
bald eher sooner
groß größer bigger
gut besser better
hoch höher higher
nah näher nearer
viel mehr more
Remember that hoch is a predicate adjective. When endings are added to hoch, it becomes hoh-. For example:
Er sieht den hohen Turm. He sees the tall tower.
German comparatives can be translated in two ways. If the English translation is a short word of Anglo-Saxon origin, its comparative form is a single German word that ends in -er (e.g., schneller = faster). If the English translation is a long word, usually from a foreign source, it cannot be translated by adding the suffix -er to the adjective or adverb. Instead, the adverb more precedes the adjective or adverb (e.g., interessanter = more interesting). Take a look at these examples.
Er ist jünger. He’s younger.
Der schnellere Zug ist neuer. The faster train is newer.
Dieses Buch ist interessanter. This book is more interesting.
Tanja ist intelligenter als Maria. Tanja is more intelligent than Maria.
To make a comparison between two people or objects, use als (than).
Sie war netter als ihre Schwester. She was nicer than her sister.
Ist dein Zimmer kälter als meins? Is your room colder than mine?
But als can also show a contrast between what is anticipated and the real situation. For example:
Der Chef war netter, als ich dachte. The boss was nicer than I thought.
Seine Rede ist langweiliger, als wir erwarteten. His speech is more boring than we expected.
Another useful expression is je . . . desto. It says that the more one thing occurs, the more another thing occurs. For example: The more I complain, the more she ignores me. The faster he drives, the situation becomes the scarier. Let’s look at some examples in German.
Je größer die Hitze wird, desto stärker wird mein Durst. The greater the heat becomes, the stronger my thirst gets.
Je kälter die Tage werden, desto mehr will ich nach dem Süden verreisen. The colder the days get, the more I want to travel south.
You will notice that a clause introduced by je places the verb at the end of the clause just as with subordinating clauses. In the second clause, normal word order occurs with the second element being the verb. Sometimes umso replaces desto in sentences like these. For example:
Je größer die Hitze wird, umso stärker wird mein Durst.
It is common in English to use the words more and more or two comparatives stated side by side to emphasize a comparison. In German, the adverb immer precedes a comparative to achieve this meaning.
Es wurde immer kälter. It was getting colder and colder.
Dieser Roman wird immer interessanter. This novel is getting more and more interesting.
English superlatives are formed by adding the suffix -est to an adjective or adverb. However, if the adjective or adverb is a longer word, usually from a foreign source, the suffix is not used and the adverb most precedes the adjective or adverb. For example: tallest funniest most fascinating most flexible. German has only one superlative form. The suffix -st- plus any necessary adjective ending is added to the word. For example:
klein kleinste smallest
reich reichste richest
schnell schnellste fastest
If the superlative is used as a predicate adjective, it appears in a prepositional phrase with an.
Mein Vetter ist am kleinsten. My cousin is the smallest.
Ist dieses Haus am ältesten? Is this house the oldest one?
If the superlative is used as an adjective, it must have adjective endings. If it is used as an adverb, it is formed like a predicate adjective with the preposition an.
Frau Meier hat den schönsten Garten. Mrs. Meier has the prettiest garden.
Diese Kinder lernen am schnellsten. These children learn the fastest.
As with the comparative, some adjectives and adverbs add an umlaut to the vowel in the adjective or adverb when the superlative is formed. Here is a list of some of the commonly used adjectives and adverbs that require an umlaut in the superlative form.
alt am ältesten oldest
arm am ärmsten poorest
dumm am dümmsten most stupid
grob am gröbsten coarsest
hart am härtesten hardest
jung am jüngsten youngest
kalt am kältesten coldest
klug am klügsten smartest
krank am kränksten sickest
kurz am kürzesten shortest
lang am längsten longest
schwach am schwächsten weakest
stark am stärksten strongest
warm am wärmsten warmest
If adjectives or adverbs end in -d, -t, -s, -ß, or -z, an -e- is added to the superlative suffix. In the previous examples, you will find such words. Here are a few more examples.
breit am breitesten broadest
heiß am heißesten hottest
mild am mildesten mildest
A few superlatives have an irregular form.
bald am ehesten soonest
groß am größten biggest
gut am besten best
hoch am höchsten highest
nah am nächsten nearest
viel am meisten most