Comparative and superlative adjectives in German
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.
- 1.What are the three degrees of German adjectives?
- 2.How to form the comparative and superlative
- 2.1.Endings to form the superlative and comparative in German (using suffixes)
- 3.Exceptional cases in forming the comparative and superlative
- 3.1.Adjectives that cannot be used as comparative or superlative
- 3.2.Irregular adjectives using an umlaut
- 3.3.Adjectives ending with -el and -er
- 3.4.Other irregular adjectives
- 4.Different forms of comparative in German
- 4.1.Comparative of superiority
- 4.1.1.How to form the comparative of superiority
- 4.2.Comparative of inferiority
- 4.3.Comparative of equality
- 4.4.The form of 'immer' + comparative
- 4.4.1.'immer + mehr' and 'immer + weniger'
- 4.5.‘Je + comparative, ‘desto’ + comparative
- 5.Superlative in German
- 5.1.Different forms of comparative in German
- 5.2.Superlative of attributive adjectives
- 5.3.Absolute superlative in German
- 5.4.Relative superlative in German
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.
- 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.)
While 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.
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
Keep in mind, that if a comparative or superlative adjective precedes a noun, it takes the appropriate adjective ending.
|schnell||schnell - er||am schnell - sten|
|laut||laut - er||am laut - esten|
|klein||klein - er||am klein - sten|
|schön||schön - er||am schön - sten|
Sometimes, 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:
- Adjectives that cannot be used as comparative or superlative
- Irregular adjectives using an umlaut
- Adjectives ending with -el and -er
- 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:
- Adjectives that represent colours (blau, grün, rot etc.)
- Adjectives that represent the highest level of something (viereckig, englisch, schwanger, maximal etc.)
- Compound adjectives where the added part of the word already stands for the highest level (eiskalt, stockdunkel, zuckersüß etc.)
|einmalig||/||/||don't use einmaliger - er, am einmalig - sten||more unique, the most unique|
|ganz||/||/||don't use ganz - er, am ganz - sten||more complete, the most complete|
|kein||/||/||don't use kein - er, am kein - sten||more barely, the most barely|
|blau||/||/||don't use blau - er, am blau - sten||more golden, the most golden|
|tot||/||/||don't use tot - er, am tot - sten||more 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.
|alt||ält - er||am ält - esten|
|lang||läng - er||am läng - sten|
|schwach||schwäch - er||am schwäch - sten|
|klug||klüg - er||am klüg - sten|
|groß||größ - er||am 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.
|dunkel||dunkl - er||am dunkel - sten|
|teuer||teur - er||am teuer - sten|
|edel||edl - er||am edel - sten|
|eitel||eitl - er||am eitel - sten|
Other irregular adjectives
The following common used adjectives in German have irregular comparative and/or superlative forms.
|gut||bess - er||am be - sten|
|gern||lieb - er||am lieb - sten|
|viel||mehr||am mei - sten|
|bald||eh - er||am ehe - sten|
|hoch||höh - er||am höch - sten|
|nahe||näh - er||am näch - sten|
Try 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.
- Comparative of superiority
- Comparative of inferiority
- Comparative of equality
- Form of 'immer* + comparative
- 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).
|stark||stärk - er||Peter ist stärker als Thomas. (Peter is stronger than Thomas.)|
|teuer||teur - er||Der Ring ist teurer als die Kette. (The ring is more expensive than the necklace.)|
|viel||mehr||Er isst mehr als seine Mutter. (He eats more than his father.)|
|intelligent||intelligent - er||Thomas 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)
|attraktiv||Martin ist weniger attraktiv als Stefan. (Martin is less attractive than Stefan.)|
|intelligent||Er ist weniger intelligent als ich. (He is less intelligent than me.)|
|kalt||Drinnen ist es weniger kalt als draußen. (Inside it is less cold than outside.)|
|spannend||Fußball 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
|groß||Er ist so groß wie Karl. (He is as tall as Karl.)|
|dünn||Mandy ist so dünn wie Petra. (Mandy is as thin as Petra.)|
|viel||Der Schal kostet so viel wie die Hose. (The scarf is as expensive as the pants.)|
|kalt||Heute ist es so kalt wie im Winter. (Today it's as cold as in winter.)|
By 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.
|kalt||kält - er||Es wird immer kälter. (It is getting colder and colder.)|
|alt||ält - er||Sie wird immer älter. (She is getting older and older.)|
|lang||läng - er||Die Tage werden immer länger. (The days are getting longer and longer.)|
|laut||laut - er||Die Männer sprechen immer lauter. (The men were talking louder and louder.)|
This 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.
|Adjective||Example with 'immer mehr'|
|alt||Es gibt immer mehr alte Menschen in Deutschland. (There are more and more old people in Germany.)|
|regnerisch||Es gilt immer mehr regnerische Tage in England. (There are more and more rainy days in England.)|
The combination of 'immer + mehr' can be translated as 'more and more' in English.
|Adjective||Example with 'immer weniger'|
|gerne||Ich mag ihn immer weniger gerne. (I like him less and less.)|
|dicht||Die Bevölkerung in Österreich ist immer weniger dicht. (The population in Austria is less and less dense.)|
The 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 adjective||Example|
|kurz = kürzer||produktiv = produktiver||
Je kürzer die Arbeitswoche ist, desto produktiver sind die Arbeitnehmer. (The shorter the work week becomes, the more productivethe workers become.)
|viel = mehr||gut = besser||Je mehr ich lerne, desto besser bin ich in der Prüfung. (The more I learn, the better I am in the exam.)|
|viel = mehr||glücklich = glücklicher||Je mehr Glück er hat, umso glücklicher ist er.(The more luck he has, the happier he is.)|
|lang = länger||nervös = nervöser||Je länger ich warten musste, umso nervöser wurde ich. (The longer I had to wait, the more nervous I became.)|
There 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:
- Superlative of attributive adjectives
- Absolute superlative
- 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.
|Adjective||Superlative||Example without 'am'|
|groß||am größten||Berlin ist die größte Stadt in Deutschland. (Berlin is the biggest city in Germany.)|
|billig||am billigsten||Das hier ist das billigste Brot. (This one is the cheapest bread.)|
|Adjective||Superlative||Example with 'am'|
|gut||am besten||Berlin gefällt mir am besten. (I like Berlin the most.)|
|viel||am meisten||In 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.)
The 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.
|schwer -||schwerreich||heavily rich|
|super -||superschnell||super fast|
|ober -||oberfaul||extremely lazy|
|/||mit herzlichsten Grüßen||with most kind regards|
|/||in tiefster Trauer||in deepest sadness|
|/||zu unserer vollsten Zufriedenheit||to 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.)
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