comparative-and-superlative-german

Follow This Formula to Use German Comparatives and Superlatives

Take German and Japanese.

Would you say German is easier to learn?

I sure would, but that’s because I’m a native English speaker and English has Germanic roots.

In fact, because of the many similarities between English and German, I would go even further and claim that German is the easiest foreign language for English speakers to learn.

Catch what I did there?

I just used easy in its comparative form (easier) and then in its superlative form (easiest).

I’m sneaky like that. I’m sneakier than you are! I’m the sneakiest! (There I go again.)

Rather than indulge my sneakiness, let’s approach comparatives and superlatives in German directly. In case you need a quick refresher on what those are, with a better definition than my silly examples here, you’ll find them below.

Then we’ll show you how to form comparatives and superlatives in German and how to use them correctly in different contexts.
 


 

It’s All Relative! How to Use Comparatives and Superlatives in German

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What Are Comparatives and Superlatives?

If you’re comparing two things, people, actions, characteristics or qualities and they’re not equal, you need a comparative.

Superlatives are used when you want to make a claim that something, relative to all others, has the most or least of a given characteristic.

By contrast, if you want to compare a shared characteristic of two things and you think the two characteristics are equal, there’s no need for a comparative or superlative adjective. You would instead use a positive adjective, or an adjective in its most simple form, and put it in between so (as) and wie (as/like).

Ich bin so schnell wie du. (I am as fast as you.)

Before jumping into how comparatives and superlatives work in German, it can be helpful to look at the building blocks in English.

When we compare or judge qualities about a thing or action, we use either adjectives or adverbs. You probably recall that adjectives describe people, places or things, and adverbs describe actions.

Adjective:

He is fat.

Adverb:

He can run quickly.

German also uses adjectives and adverbs to make comparisons, which is going to make this really easy for native English speakers. For example, check out how similar the following English and German structures are:

Positive adjective:

Ich bin groß. (I am tall.)

Comparative adjective:

Ich bin größer. (I am taller.)

Superlative adjective:

Ich bin am größten. (I am the tallest.)

Where to Practice Comparatives and Superlatives

Want to find out where your knowledge on this topic stands, or practice the rules as you run through this post? Check out online quizzes like this one at Lingolia, or even the Goethe Institute’s crosswords for comparatives.

The University of Michigan has also collected a series of short comparative and superlative online practice exercises to try.

As with most German language concepts, one of the best ways to learn is to hear how it’s used by real native speakers. FluentU provides authentic, entertaining German videos where you can do just that.

FluentU’s videos include real movie trailers, music videos, inspiring talks and more, all supercharged with interactive German-learning tools. Each video comes with captions you can click for an instant definition and native pronunciation of any word. There are also flashcards and exercises to help you remember new words and phrases when you’re done watching.

You’ll pick up tons of new comparatives and superlatives, and since FluentU can also show you other videos that have any word you click, you can see it used correctly in different contexts. The videos are organized by genre and learning level so it’s easy to find something that works for you.

It’s a fun way to build your German skills without even feeling like you’re studying. Check out the free trial to see how many comparatives, superlatives and other language elements you pick up!

As you’ll see later in this post, there are a few irregular forms and rule exceptions to German comparatives and superlatives.

Those generally require straight memorization, and there are great apps for that. For example, Tinycards is a flashcard program that you can use on your phone. Test yourself while you’re waiting for a bus or standing in line at the supermarket.

Some of us benefit most from working alongside someone else, though, so check out German language schools in your area. You might post a flyer and see if you can form a study group or a language exchange with like-minded students.

How to Form Comparatives and Superlatives in German

The Basic Formula

If you noticed, the formation of comparative and superlative adjectives and adverbs in both English and German is formulaic. Consider the English -er and -est suffixes. That’s a pretty good indication that you’re working with comparatives and superlatives, respectively.

German also has a formula and it’s similar to English.

In German, comparatives are often formed by adding -er to the end of an adjective or adverb (just like in English). Superlatives are formed by appending -sten or -esten to the end of an adjective or adverb. In certain cases, the word am precedes the superlative—more on that later in the post.

Check out the following examples:

laut (loud), lauter (louder), am lautesten (the loudest)

Exceptions to the Formula

You might be thinking “it can’t be that easy,” and of course, you’re right. As you’ll often find, there are exceptions to the formula above.

In German, those exceptions are often found when you’re using a monosyllabic adjective. In some of those cases, you need to toss an umlaut in there, too, right over the verb.

groß (big), größer (bigger), am größten (the biggest)

alt (old), älter (older), am ältesten (the oldest)

jung (young), jünger (younger), am jüngsten (the youngest)

Then there are the words that just play by their own rules—irregular comparatives and superlatives that you can simply memorize. Here are some of the most common:

viel (much), mehr (more), am meisten (the most)

gut (good), besser (better), am besten (the best)

gern (like/with pleasure), lieber (love to/prefer to), am liebsten (the favorite/with the most pleasure)

hoch (tall), höher (taller), am höchsten (the tallest)

Also, it’s worth noting that unlike English, in German you can’t just add “more” or “most” in front of a positive adjective to turn it into a comparative or superlative form. (In German those words are mehr and meist but you can forget that for the time being because you won’t be using those words here.)

How to Use Comparatives and Superlatives in Context

Assess the Gender and Case

As you might already know, German adjectives can change their form depending on the gender and case of the noun they’re modifying. If you need an in-depth overview, check out this article on how to always get German adjective endings right. For our purposes, the following quick points will suffice:

Indefinite Articles (Strong Endings)

Nominative:

For the masculine, the ending is -r or -er.

For the feminine, the ending is -e.

For the neutral, the ending is -s or -es.

For the plural, the ending is -e.

Accusative:

For the masculine, the ending is -n or -en.

For the feminine, the ending is -e.

For the neutral, the ending is -s or -es.

For the plural, the ending is -e.

Definite Articles (Weak Endings)

Nominative:

For the masculine, the ending is -e.

For the feminine, the ending is -e.

For the neutral, the ending is -e.

For the plural, the ending is -en.

Accusative:

For the masculine, the ending is -en.

For the feminine, the ending is -e.

For the neutral, the ending is -e.

For the plural, the ending is -en.

Watch out for situations where you need to rely on context to determine whether it’s a comparative or a positive adjective, as in the following:

mein schneller Freund (my fast friend)

In the case above, schneller (faster) has that -er on the end simply because Freund (friend) is masculine. In this case, it’s not comparative. It’s just descriptive. You’re talking about your fast friend.

mein schneller Freund (my faster friend)

Yes, unfortunately, you read that right. The positive and comparative forms for schnell (fast), when you’re talking about a masculine object, look alike. In this case, schneller (faster) has that -er on the end again, but it’s for a different reason. In this case, it’s because we’re using the comparative form.

Use Als for Comparative Sentence Building

When we compare two things in English, we use “than.” In German, instead of “than,” we use als (as).

Remember the above example in English:

I am faster than you.

We’ve taken the adjective “fast” and added an -er on the end of it to make it comparative. Then we had to change the structure of the sentence by adding the word “than” after it.

In German, you add an -er after the adjective and you add the word als (as) after it.

Ich bin schneller als du. (I am faster than you.)

Use Am or an Article for Superlative Sentence Building

Let’s take a moment to discuss what this am thing is I keep throwing in here when I use superlatives. Technically, it’s a shortened form of “an dem” (at the).

We use it when we have a superlative that’s not sandwiched between an article and a noun, like in the example from earlier:

Ich bin am größten. (I am the tallest.)

When you’re using superlatives that are sandwiched between an article and a noun, you treat the superlative slightly differently. You still begin the same way, by adding the correct suffix.

Instead of including the word am before it, you include an article (der/die/das) before it and you change the ending to reflect the correct case, in accordance with the gender rules.

In case you need a couple more examples to clarify when you use am and when you modify the superlative adjective ending based on the gender and case, check out the following.

Feminine:

Meine ist die vollste Flasche. (Mine is the fullest bottle.)

Meine Flasche ist am vollsten. (My bottle is the fullest.)

Masculine:

Ich bin der jüngster Bruder. (I am the youngest brother.)

Ich bin am jüngsten. (I am youngest.)

Look Out for the Nominative vs. Accusative Case

Remember in German that we sometimes have to change the case of nouns. That means we have to keep in mind that articles and pronouns can change.

Most of the time you’ll be using comparatives or superlatives in the nominative case, but be aware that the accusative can also be used.

Nominative:

Ich bin größer als du. (I am taller than you.)

In the above case, the adjective compares two things (“I” and “you”) in the nominative. No one is doing something to someone or something else.

Accusative:

Mama mag mich besser als dich. (Mom likes me better than you.)

You’ll notice here that the accusative works just the same as it normally does, changing ich (I) to mich and du (you) to dich. Just remember to put that als in there.

Accusative:

Ich habe die schönsten Blumen gekauft. (I bought the prettiest flowers.)

In this case, the flowers are being acted upon by me, therefore they go in the plural, accusative case with a weak ending due to the definite article, which means the adjective will end in -en.

 

If all this seems a bit overwhelming, don’t worry.

It’s just a few rules that you’ll learn with use and over time, you’ll find that when the rules aren’t applied correctly, it just won’t “sound right” to you anymore.

To get to that point, take advantage of as many opportunities as you can to practice.

Work on German comparatives and superlatives as often as possible, with other German language learners or even by yourself with some apps and online resources.
 

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