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Comparatives and Superlatives

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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.

Comparatives

The basic German form of comparative adjectives and adverbs is the attachment of the suffix -er to the adjective or adverb. For example:

positive                  comparative
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.

positive                  comparative
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.

positive                  comparative
dunkel                    dunkler                   darker
teuer                       teurer                       more expensive
trocken                    trockner                  drier

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A few comparatives have an irregular form. Fortunately, the list is short.

positive                  comparative
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.

Superlatives

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:

positive                        superlative
klein                            kleinste                    smallest
reich                            reichste                    richest
schnell                        schnellste                 fastest

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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.

positive                    superlative
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.

positive              superlative
breit                    am breitesten            broadest
heiß                    am heißesten             hottest
mild                   am mildesten             mildest

A few superlatives have an irregular form.

positive             superlative
bald                  am ehesten                soonest
groß                  am größten               biggest
gut                     am besten                 best
hoch                   am höchsten            highest
nah                     am nächsten            nearest
viel                     am meisten              most

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