The Good, Better and Best Guide to the French Comparative and Superlative
Ready to make a bold statement?
Like to add some swagger and conviction to your French?
Want the power to compare and declare?
Well, good. Time to break out the comparative and superlative!
These two grammatical aspects of the French language are fairly easy to learn, but they have a tremendous effect on the ability of learners to communicate.
- The Comparative and Superlative
- Comparative Adverbs in French
- Superlative Adverbs in French
- Irregular Comparative and Superlative Forms
The Comparative and Superlative
A comparative adverb is one that compares items.
It allows you to say things like “I am faster than Dominic,” or “The black cat is bigger than the gray cat.”
The superlative, on the other hand, is used to communicate an extreme.
It allows you to say, “I am the fastest,” or “My cat is the biggest.”
Comparative Adverbs in French
In French, as in English, there are generally three levels of comparison: superior, inferior and equal.
Superior comparative adverbs mean something is more than something else.
Inferior ones mean something is less than something else.
Equal ones mean that something is equal to something else.
We use these adverbs to make comparisons.
Forming regular French comparative sentences
To form regular comparative sentences in French (yes, there are irregulars—you just can’t catch a break, can you?), sandwich your adjectives between the following words:
- plus…que (more…than/___er than) for superior comparisons
- moins…que (less…than) for inferior comparisons
- aussi…que (as…as) or autant que (as much/many as) for equal comparisons
These adverbs look a little incomplete on their own, and granted, they are, so let’s see them in action. Note that the adjective goes between the comparative adverb (plus, moins or aussi) and the que (that).
Check out these examples:
Le chat noir est plus grand que le chat gris.
(The black cat is bigger than the gray cat.)
Ta maison est moins chère que ma maison.
(Your house is less expensive than my house.)
Monique est aussi belle que Marie.
(Monique is as beautiful as Marie.)
Even though we have used adjectives (words that describe a noun) to make comparisons in the above examples, you can also use adverbs (words that describe a verb) or verbs to make comparisons.
Tu marches plus lentement que moi. (You walk more slowly than me.)
Pièrre mange moins que Giselle. (Peter eats less than Giselle.)
Je lis autant que François. (I read as much as François.)
Using de instead of que
In comparative sentences, speakers must use de instead of que when the word that follows is a noun or a number.
Check out these examples to see what I mean:
Il a plus de chats que toi.
(He has more cats than you [do].)
Il y a moins de cent personnes à l’école.
(There are fewer than one hundred people at the school.)
Superlative Adverbs in French
Unlike comparative adverbs in French, the superlative only has two levels of comparison: superior and inferior. This is because the superlative is all about the extreme.
Remember, you can’t be the absolute best at French grammar if you’re sharing the title.
Forming regular French superlative sentences
At risk of disappointing you again, there are irregularities in the superlative as well. However, forming regular French superlative sentences is very simple. Just place the superlative adverbs before the word.
Check out these two forms:
- le/la/les plus (the most/the ___est) for the superior superlative
- le/la/les moins (the least) for the inferior superlative
And now for some examples. Remember, like the comparative, you can use the superlative with adjectives, adverbs and verbs.
Il est le plus grand garçon. (He is the tallest boy.)
Nous lisons le plus lentement. (We read the slowest.)
Louis parle le moins. (Louis speaks the least.)
In addition to these forms, you can form the superlative in a different way when speaking.
You can say either “Il est le plus grand garçon,” or you can say “Il est le garçon le plus grand.”
Both of these mean “He is the tallest boy.”
This is only appropriate for oral French, not written French, but it is an option. You know, just in case you wanna change things up.
Finally, you can use the preposition de (of) in order to put your superlative sentence in context.
Il est le plus grand garçon de l’école. (He is the tallest boy in the school.)
Irregular Comparative and Superlative Forms
And now the moment you’ve been dreading: the irregularities. Lucky for you, there are only a couple mandatory irregular forms for comparative and superlative adverbs, plus a few optional ones.
Check out this list to keep these exceptions clear in your head.
Much like how you can’t say “gooder than” or “the goodest” in English, you can’t say plus bon or le plus bon in French.
Instead, use the word meilleur in the comparative and le meilleur in the superlative. Be aware, however, that bon is only irregular in the superior form—you can say moins bon (less good).
Mon livre est meilleur que ton livre. (My book is better than your book.)
Mon livre est le meilleur. (My book is the best.)
Ton livre est moins bon que mon livre. (Your book is less good than mine.)
Sometimes it’s difficult for learners of French to grasp the difference between bon and bien. Just remember, bon is an adjective and describes nouns, whereas bien is an adverb and describes verbs. In the comparative form, bien becomes mieux (better). In the superlative form, it becomes le mieux (the best).
Again, mieux is only used in the superior form.
Elle parle mieux français. (She speaks French better.)
Elle parle français le mieux. (She speaks French the best.)
Elle parle moins bien français. (She speaks French less well.)
You can say plus mauvais…que in the superior comparative form and le mauvais in the superior superlative. You can also say pire and le pire. Though these are sometimes interchangeable, pire and le pire appear more often in books than spoken language, and they are restricted to talking about abstract things.
Ce vin est plus mauvais que l’autre. (This wine is worse than the other.)
Son attitude est pire que la mienne. (His/her attitude is worse than mine.)
Elle est la plus mauvaise/la pire. (She is the worst.)
In the superior comparative and superlative forms, you say plus petit que and le plus petit when talking about concrete nouns.
Je suis plus petit que Renard. (I am smaller than Renard.)
Je suis le plus petit. (I am the smallest.)
For abstract nouns, you use moindre que or le moindre. This almost gives the meaning of “less.”
Ce prix est moindre que le mien. (That price is less than mine.)
Just because comparative and superlative adverbs seem simple enough doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice.
One great way to do this is through French movies and books, which can help you see how native speakers actually use the comparative and superlative. If that sounds intimidating, try a virtual immersion program. FluentU, for example, takes culturally-relevant video clips and adds interactive, expert-edited subtitles for additional support.
You can also complete quizzes on comparative adverbs at Lingolia or at Bonjour de France.
You can also sharpen up those superlatives at Bonjour de France.
If you want to practice both comparative and superlative adverbs in the same environment, you can do so at About.com or on the University of Texas website.
That wasn’t too bad, was it?
I better hear you comparing good movies to bad movies, good French books to bad French books, apples to oranges!
Once you have, it’s on to the next French grammar item!
Yeah, take a little break first.
And maybe don’t expect so few rule exceptions next time.