The little things in life can make a big difference.
A little extra height means you can reach that top shelf.
A few extra points on a pop quiz can earn you an A- instead of a B+.
If you’re learning Spanish, those little game-changers might be comparative words.
Phrases like más que (more than) and tan como (as much as) can shed light on a whole sentence by showing how things relate to each other.
However, if you don’t take these little words seriously by practicing properly, they may fail you when you need them most—and there’s nothing more frustrating for a language learner than being on the verge of forming a beautiful and complex sentence only to fall short for want of one or two important little words.
Fortunately, there are a few simple practice strategies you can use to avoid an embarrassing situation like that. Once you’ve learned a few key words and phrases and put in some work to make them stick in your memory, you’ll be able to make comparisons with confidence!
Meet the Spanish Words You’ll Need for Comparisons
Before you jump into learning about the best ways to practice, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the words that are used to express comparative thought in Spanish.
After a quick refresher, you’ll be able to recognize the words easily in context, and you’ll be sure that you’re reinforcing the right concepts during your practice sessions.
1. Más/menos que and más/menos de (more/less than)
A common comparison you might find yourself wanting to make is “more/less than.” The problem is there are actually two ways to say this in Spanish depending on what you mean.
Don’t worry, though. The ways they’re used are totally different, so it’s not too hard once you get the hang of it.
Más que (more than) and menos que (less/fewer than) are used when you want to say one thing is more or less *adjective* than another thing.
- Jose es más alto que Ana. (Jose is taller than Ana.)
- Esta chaqueta es menos cómoda que la otra. (This jacket is less comfortable than the other one.)
- Tengo menos libros que Juan. (I have fewer books than Juan.)
However, if you want to use “more/less than” to describe the amount of something without comparing it to however many Juan has, use más de (more than) and menos de (less than). You’ll usually be using this to say that you have more or less than a certain number.
- Esa camisa cuesta más de $20. (That shirt costs more than $20.)
- Hay menos de 10 galletas restantes. (There are fewer than 10 cookies left.)
2. Lo/la más/menos (the most/least)
One thing that makes Spanish superlatives a bit tricky is that, where English uses the definite article “the” (the most/least), Spanish opts for the pronouns lo and la when not using the noun directly.
- Esta frase es la más útil de todos. (This sentence is the most helpful of all.)
- Él es lo menos alborotador de la clase. (He’s the least disruptive in the class.)
3. Tan…como (as/as)
The next couple of word pairs sound a little similar, but they mean different things even though they’re both used to make comparisons of equality. Tan and como are used when you want to say something is as *adjective* as something else.
- El tiempo está tan lluvioso hoy como ayer. (The weather is as rainy today as yesterday.)
- Estoy tan inteligente como tú. (I am as talented as you.)
4. Tanto…como (as much/as)
On the other hand, tanto and como are used to express “as much as” or “as many as.” Tanto is an adjective that agrees in number and gender with the thing it’s describing.
- Hay tanta lluvia hoy como ayer. (There is as much rain today as yesterday.)
- Elisa comió tantas hamburguesas como Luis. (Elisa ate as many hamburgers as Luis.)
So there you have it—all the words you’ll need to start making Spanish comparisons. Now let’s get started with some practice strategies that will help you remember them.
How to Get Solid Spanish Comparisons Practice
1. Press “Play” on Fun Videos
If you’re serious about integrating Spanish into your daily routine, you’ve probably discovered the joys of watching TV in Spanish at this point.
With some mindful viewing and careful content selection, it can be a great way to practice Spanish comparisons.
This is a clever language program that’s built around the concept of using videos to teach a foreign language.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Try searching for videos featuring comparisons or superlatives—or just pick out a few videos on a topic that interests you. Then, when it’s time for the post-video quizzes, keep an eye out for sentences using the words discussed above.
Watching TV and seeking out content on YouTube are also great ways of picking up comparisons. Watching with the subtitles off is a great additional challenge because you’ll need to pay close attention and you can hone your listening skills at the same time.
When you hear a comparative word or phrase, take note of how it’s used in the sentence. And if you’re not sure of what you’re hearing, be kind (to yourself) and rewind.
2. Read Like You Mean It
Reading gets a lot of press as a way to expand vocabulary, but it’s also great for learning grammar—including comparisons. Regardless of whether or not you’re already reading Spanish on the regular, the next time you pick up a Spanish-language book, you can use it as an opportunity to learn about making comparisons.
Back to basics: Children’s books
Assuming you’ve been a young child at one point in your life, you probably have a few fond memories of reading simple books or having them read to you—Dr. Seuss, Curious George and the like.
In addition to providing fond memories and such, these kinds of books are instrumental in teaching young kids how to write and speak properly—and they can do the same for language learners.
If you don’t already have a copy of “Jorge Curioso” (Curious George) handy, give your local library or bookstore some love. They often have such titles available for young Spanish speakers. Even if you’re already reading at a high level, these books are great fodder for identifying comparisons and other simple elements of grammar.
Stepping it up: Advanced material
Then again, maybe you don’t feel like “Jorge Curioso” has a lot to offer you at this point in your language-learning career, or maybe there’s some really cool adult-level book that you’d rather be reading. That’s great!
Be aware, however, that if you want to use advanced material in your Spanish comparisons practice, you’re going to have to pace yourself.
The best thing to do is to read the text at least once just for pleasure (or however much you can parse at a time—a few pages or a chapter of a novel, whatever the case may be). Once you’ve got a good grip on what’s happening, go back and read it again—slowly—and find the comparative sentences. Since you already know what you’re reading and have probably already noticed a few comparisons along the way, all that’s left to do is read them a little more closely to understand how they’re being used.
3. Listen to Popular Music
Have you ever struggled for days or even weeks to understand some Spanish grammatical convention, only to hear it used in a song and suddenly have it click? If not, you’re in for a real treat.
People get songs stuck in their heads. It’s human nature. So if you’re a language learner, you may as well use this to your advantage and listen to a few songs in Spanish that include comparative words.
The best thing to do is to find a few songs that use comparisons and start learning the lyrics. Spend some quality time listening to songs in Spanish—whether it’s on your car radio or via streaming—and if you hear a comparison, go ahead and look up the lyrics. Try committing the verse to memory or the whole song if you want to. You could even start singing along—preferably with the song itself, of course.
Here are some choice tracks to get you started.
“Tengo tu love” (I Got Your Love)
This sweet, catchy love song is ideal for practicing comparisons because the singer spends most of the song comparing himself and what he has to what other people have—a list that includes oro (gold), el anillo (the ring) and even un jacuzzi lleno de agua Evian (a jacuzzi filled with Evian water).
But it doesn’t matter, as he tells us, because love vale más que (is worth more than) any of those things.
The lyrics offer a good mix of más que examples and comparative ideas that don’t explicitly use the comparative words discussed here. Plus, who doesn’t love a good love story?
“Tan cierto como tú” (The Gospel Truth)
This one is for the Disney fans.
If you’ve seen the 1997 film “Hercules”—and if you haven’t, you definitely should—you probably remember the intro song, “The Gospel Truth,” in which the muses assure the listener that the tale they’re about to hear is “the gospel truth.”
However, if you’re watching the movie in Spain, las musas (the muses) plead their case a little differently. As they sing about los titanes (the titans), el caos (the chaos) and la vida en el Olimpio (life in Olympus), they drop an occasional reminder that the story is tan cierto como tú—that is, as sure or as real as the listener.
It’s a fun idiom and a great song, and it just might help you remember tan/como for life.
FluentU: Music video edition
If you’re using the listen-and-identify method to find new music with Spanish lyrics, FluentU can be a big help. The site has plenty of music videos you can watch with helpful subtitles and quizzes to follow. It’s a great way to find new songs that could help you learn comparisons. For example:
- “More Than Your Friend” by Marco Antonio Solís
- “Nobody Better Than You” by Marta Sánchez
- “Nothing More Ecuadorian Than…” (This is a comedy sketch, not a song, but it still gets the job done.)
4. Find Fresh Ways to Compare Daily
There are a lot of ways to phrase the comparative ideas contained in words like más/que and tan/como, which is good because there are that many more ways of expressing yourself at your disposal. Finding different ways to express the same thought will keep your skills sharp and prevent your comparisons from becoming too formulaic.
Once you’ve heard, read and sung enough comparisons to get the hang of them, try writing and then rewriting some comparisons of your own. Or you could seek out sentences that express comparative thought and rewrite them. A few examples:
- Él tiene mucho dinero; ella tiene poco. (He has a lot of money; she has little.) Él es más rico que ella. (He is richer than her.)
- Este gato es más suave que los otros. (This cat is softer than the others.) Este gato es lo más suave de todos. (This cat is the softest of all.)
- Él tiene tantos lápices como ella. (He has as many pencils as she does.) Ambos tienen cinco lápices. (They both have five pencils.)
There are a lot of ways to practice comparisons, and ultimately which one you choose is going to depend on your personal taste and what you’re trying to work on.
However you decide to practice, just keep at it, and soon your comparisons will be mucho mejores que antes (much better than before).