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Comparative and superlative adjectives in German

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In German there are different ways to compare certain persons, objects or processes. This chapter deals with the different types of comparison and represents its construction and special cases. 

What are the three degrees of German adjectives?

In English as well as in German, adjectives have three degrees of comparison: the positive, the comparative and the superlative. 

For example:

  • Das Bild ist schön. (positive) (The picture is pretty.)
  • Dein Bild ist schöner. (comparative) (Your picture is prettier.)
  • Unser Bild ist am schönsten. (superlative) (Our picture is the prettiest.)

enlightenedWhile the positive form of an adjective simply describes the noun, a comparative adjective compares persons or things that are not equal. The superlative describes persons, actions or things that can't be outperformed.

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How to form the comparative and superlative

To build the comparative or superlative form, you need to seperate the word stem and afterwards add a specific ending.

Endings to form the superlative and comparative in German (using suffixes)

The two forms of adjectives have different constructions. Both of them are constructed using a suffix:

  • comparative form: base form of adjective + -er
  • superlative form: am + base form of adjective + -(e)sten

enlightenedKeep in mind, that if a comparative or superlative adjective precedes a noun, it takes the appropriate adjective ending.

PositiveComparativeSuperlative
schnellschnell - eram schnell - sten
lautlaut - eram laut - esten
kleinklein - eram klein - sten
schönschön - eram schön - sten

 

enlightenedSometimes, in English the comparative and superlative forms are composed by using more or most, as in more beautiful. Unlike in Englisch, in German it can never be formed by mehr + adjective.

Exceptional cases in forming the comparative and superlative

Of course, there are certain cases, where you have to be careful with. These are the exceptional cases by forming the comparative and superlative:

  1. Adjectives that cannot be used as comparative or superlative
  2. Irregular adjectives using an umlaut
  3. Adjectives ending with -el and -er
  4. Other irregular adjectives

Adjectives that cannot be used as comparative or superlative

Some adjectives cannot be tranformed into the comporative or superlative form, because otherwise the meaning of the words would be modified. The following adjectives cannot be increased:

  1. Adjectives that represent colours (blau, grün, rot etc.)
  2. Adjectives that represent the highest level of something (viereckig, englisch, schwanger, maximal etc.)
  3. Compound adjectives where the added part of the word already stands for the highest level (eiskalt, stockdunkel, zuckersüß etc.)

 

PositiveComparativeSuperlativeDon't useMeaning
einmalig          /         /don't use einmaliger - er, am einmalig - stenmore unique, the most unique
ganz          /         /don't use ganz - er, am ganz - stenmore complete, the most complete
kein          /         /don't use kein - er, am kein - stenmore barely, the most barely
blau          /         /don't use blau - er, am blau - stenmore golden, the most golden
tot          /         /don't use tot - er, am tot - stenmore dead, the most dead

Irregular adjectives using an umlaut

Most monosyllable adjectives with stem vowels of a, o or u take an umlaut when they are used in the comparative or superlative form.

AdjectiveComparativeSuperlative
altält - eram ält - esten
langläng - eram läng - sten
schwachschwäch - eram schwäch - sten
klugklüg - eram klüg - sten
großgröß - eram größ - sten

Adjectives ending with -el and -er

In some cases, adjectives ending with -el may drop the -e, while adjectives ending with -er may drop the -e as well.

AdjectiveComparativeSuperlative
dunkeldunkl - eram dunkel - sten
teuerteur - eram teuer - sten
edeledl - eram edel - sten
eiteleitl - eram eitel - sten

Other irregular adjectives

The following common used adjectives in German have irregular comparative and/or superlative forms.

AdjectiveComparativeSuperlative
gutbess - eram be - sten
gernlieb - eram lieb - sten
vielmehram mei - sten
baldeh - eram ehe - sten
hochhöh - eram höch - sten
nahenäh - eram näch - sten

 

enlightenedTry to learn those words by heart, as there is a change of the word stem and no strict rule you can follow.

Different forms of comparative in German

In German there are different forms of comparative to express the superiority, the inferiority or the equality of two persons or objects.

  1. Comparative of superiority
  2. Comparative of inferiority
  3. Comparative of equality
  4. Form of 'immer* + comparative
  5. Form of 'je' ... 'desto' + comparative

1. Comparative of superiority

The comparative of superiority is used to express the inequality of two persons, things etc.

How to form the comparative of superiority

it is expressed using the construction of the comparative followed by als (than).

AdjectiveComparativeExample
starkstärk - erPeter ist stärker als Thomas. (Peter is stronger than Thomas.)
teuerteur - erDer Ring ist teurer als die Kette. (The ring is more expensive than the necklace.)
vielmehrEr isst mehr als seine Mutter. (He eats more than his father.)
intelligentintelligent - erThomas ist intelligenter als Moritz. (Moritz ist more intelligent than Moritz.)

2. Comparative of inferiority

In contrast to that, this type of comparative expresses the inferiority of one person, thing etc. against another. It is constructed like this:

  • weniger + adjective + als (less + adjective + than)
AdjectiveExample
attraktivMartin ist weniger attraktiv als Stefan. (Martin is less attractive than Stefan.)
intelligentEr ist weniger intelligent als ich. (He is less intelligent than me.)
kaltDrinnen ist es weniger kalt als draußen. (Inside it is less cold than outside.)
spannendFußball ist weniger spannend als Tennis. (Soccer is less exciting than tennis.)

3. Comparative of equality

Comparisons expressing equality between two persons, things etc. are expressed and constructed in the following way:

  • so + adjective + wie
AdjectiveExample
großEr ist so groß wie Karl. (He is as tall as Karl.)
dünnMandy ist so dünn wie Petra. (Mandy is as thin as Petra.)
vielDer Schal kostet so viel wie die Hose. (The scarf is as expensive as the pants.)
kaltHeute ist es so kalt wie im Winter. (Today it's as cold as in winter.)

 

enlightenedBy using the comparative of inferiority and equality it is not necessary to modify the adjective.

4. The form of 'immer' + comparative

This type of comparative is used to describe things that are increasing or decreasing continuously. The form is constructed by just adding 'immer' and forming the comparative of an adjective.

AdjectiveComparativeExample
kaltkält - erEs wird immer kälter. (It is getting colder and colder.)
altält - erSie wird immer älter. (She is getting older and older.)
langläng - erDie Tage werden immer länger. (The days are getting longer and longer.)
lautlaut - erDie Männer sprechen immer lauter. (The men were talking louder and louder.)

 

enlightenedThis type of comparison is not a comparison between two people or things, but rather a comparison between the same situation compared at two different moments.

There are also some special constructions with 'immer'.

'immer + mehr' and 'immer + weniger'

By using this constructions of 'immer mehr' and 'immer weniger' it is important to decline the adjective, because it stands before the noun and therefore has to be adjusted to it.

AdjectiveExample with 'immer mehr'
altEs gibt immer mehr alte Menschen in Deutschland. (There are more and more old people in Germany.)
regnerischEs gilt immer mehr regnerische Tage in England. (There are more and more rainy days in England.)

 

enlightenedThe combination of 'immer + mehr' can be translated as 'more and more' in English.

 

AdjectiveExample with 'immer weniger'
gerneIch mag ihn immer weniger gerne. (I like him less and less.)
dichtDie Bevölkerung in Österreich ist immer weniger dicht. (The population in Austria is less and less dense.)

 

enlightenedThe combination of 'immer + weniger' can be translated as 'less and less' in English.

5. ‘Je + comparative, ‘desto’ + comparative

The German combination of 'Je ... desto' and 'Je ... umso' can be used equally. The english equivalent to it is 'the ... the'. The specific thing about this construction is, that you have two used adjectives.

Comparative of 1st adjective

Comparative of 2nd adjectiveExample
kurz = kürzerproduktiv = produktiver

Je kürzer die Arbeitswoche ist, desto produktiver sind die Arbeitnehmer. (The shorter the work week becomes, the more productivethe workers become.)

viel = mehrgut = besserJe mehr ich lerne, desto besser bin ich in der Prüfung. (The more I learn, the better I am in the exam.)
viel = mehrglücklich = glücklicherJe mehr Glück er hat, umso glücklicher ist er.(The more luck he has, the happier he is.)
lang = längernervös = nervöserJe länger ich warten musste, umso nervöser wurde ich. (The longer I had to wait, the more nervous I became.)

 

enlightenedThere are some shortened phrases in German that use this construction as well, for instance, 'Je mehr, desto besser' (The more, the better).

Superlative in German

The superlative expresses the highest level of something. In German it is constructed by using:

  • am + base form of adjective + - (e)sten

Different forms of comparative in German

By using the comparative there are also different forms and some exceptions to the normal rule:

  1. Superlative of attributive adjectives
  2. Absolute superlative
  3. Relative superlative

1. Superlative of attributive adjectives

By using attributive adjectives the question is about when to use 'am' and when not. If the adjective is right in front of the noun, 'am' it not used.

AdjectiveSuperlativeExample without 'am'
großam größtenBerlin ist die größte Stadt in Deutschland. (Berlin is the biggest city in Germany.)
billigam billigstenDas hier ist das billigste Brot. (This one is the cheapest bread.)

 

AdjectiveSuperlativeExample with 'am'
gutam bestenBerlin gefällt mir am besten. (I like Berlin the most.)
vielam meistenIn Norddeutschland regnet es am meisten. (In Northern Germany it rains the most.)

 

2. Absolute superlative in German

The absolute superlative (or Elativ) is another possibility to escalate German adjectives. The superlative is either formally identical with the superlative, or is constructed my adding a prefix or a particle to an adjective.

  • Elativ with particle: Wir arbeiten mit extrem modernen Maschinen daran. (We work on it with extremely modern machines.)
  • Elativ wirh prefix: Wir arbeiten mit hochmodernen Maschinen daran. ((We work on it with ultra-modern machines.)

enlightenedThe difference of both possibilities: Using the particle you have two words, while you only have one word using the prefix.

Often prefixes are used for the formation of those adjectival forms.

PräfixAbsolute superlativeMeaning
schwer -schwerreichheavily rich
super - superschnellsuper fast
ober - oberfaulextremely lazy
          /mit herzlichsten Grüßenwith most kind regards
          /in tiefster Trauerin deepest sadness
          /zu unserer vollsten Zufriedenheitto our complete satisfaction

3. Relative superlative in German

While the absolute superlative displays a very high degree outside of any comparison, the relative superlative highlights a special person, object etc. in comparison to others.

  • Wir arbeiten mit den modernsten Maschinen ihrer Art. (We work with the most modern machines of its kind.)
  • England hat die vergleichweise meisten Regentage in Europa. (Comparatively, England has the most rainy days in Europe.)
  • Es ist eines der besten Biere der Welt. (It's one of the best beers in the world.)

 


Exercises

  1. Exercise of irregular adjectives in German
  2. Exercise of adjectives (-er, am + -sten)
  3. Exercise of adjectives with vowel changes
  4. Exercise of adjectives ending in -er or -el

Exercise of irregular adjectives in German


Exercise of adjectives (-er, am + -sten)


Exercise of adjectives with vowel changes


Exercise of adjectives ending in -er or -el


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