Comparatives in German look quite familiar: We know the positive, comparative and superlative adjectives from English and even the comparative -er and the superlative -st are the same. What is new and typically German is the declension that becomes necessary when you use these adjectives as an attribute. But no worries, we are here to walk you through it. We will show you what a comparison is, how to build and use the comparative and superlative adjectives and how to match them with their nouns in gender, case and number if necessary.
- Comparison in German grammar
- Comparative and superlative adjectives in German
- How to use comparatives and superlatives in German
- Declension of comparative and superlative adjectives in German
Comparisons in English and German grammar
A comparison evaluates two or more persons, things or even activities with respect to the different degree to which they share a common characteristic.
Example: The white dog is nicer than the black dog.
One of the compared things can be equal, inferior or superior to the others regarding the given characteristic.
The white dog is as nice as the black dog. (equality)
The white dog is less nice than the black dog. (inferiority)
The white dog is nicer than the black dog. (superiority)
The white dog is the nicest. (superiority/superlative)
To make comparisons like these, German grammar (and English) use three forms of adjectives: Positive – comparative – superlative. We’ll explain these forms below.
Comparison with basic adjectives (the positive)
To express equality or inferiority between two things compared, we use the positive.
Example: The white dog is as nice as the black dog. (equality)
“Der weiße Hund ist so nett wie der schwarze Hund.”
The white dog is not as nice as the black dog. (inferiority)
“Der weiße Hund ist nicht so nett wie der schwarze Hund”
Note: As translates to wie, not als. To express equality, we always use wie. We will encounter als later, as the translation of than with comparative adjectives.
Comparative and superlative adjectives in German
To build the German comparative, we take the basic form of the adjective and add -er:
schnell (fast) – schnell-er (faster)
(For genuine adverbs like oft and many other adverbs of frequency, the same rule applies as for the adjectives: oft – öft-er.)
Note: There is no German equivalent for a form like “more beautiful”. Never use mehr in the German comparative.
To build the German superlative, we start with the basic form of the adjective and add – st.
schnell (fast) – der/die/das schnell-ste / am schnellsten
We will explain when to use which of these two forms in a minute. But first, we need to look at spelling and irregular forms. These are the most common used ones:
gut (good) – besser (better) – der/die/das beste / am besten (best)
nah (close) – näher (closer) – am nächsten (closest)
hoch (high) – höher (higher) – am höchsten (highest)
gern (gladly) – lieber (more gladly) – am liebsten (most gladly)
viel (a lot) – mehr (more) – am meisten (most)
How to use comparatives and superlatives in German
Let’s start with some examples of the use of comparatives and superlatives in German sentences.
“Mein Auto ist schneller als deins.” (comparative)
(My car is faster than yours.)
“Mein schnelleres Auto schlägt deins in jedem Rennen.” (comparative)
(My faster car beats yours in every race.)
“Mein Auto ist am schnellsten.” (superlative)
(My car is the fastest.)
“Das schnellste Auto im Viertel ist meins.” (superlative)
(The fastest car on the block is mine.)
Yes, it’s true. There are two forms for the comparative and the superlative respectively. Why?
Adverbial, predicative and attributive use of adjectives
There are three forms of adjectives in German: adverbial, predicative and attributive. Predicative and adverbial adjectives describe an action, a verb. If the adjective comes with sein, bleiben or werden, it is a predicative adjective, with any other verb, we call it an adverbial adjective. In both cases, the form never changes.
Predicative: “Ich bin schnell.” (I am fast.)
“Ich bin schneller.” (I am faster)
“Ich bin am schnellsten.” ( I am the fastest).
Adverbial: “Ich laufe schnell.” (I run fast).
“Ich laufe schneller als du.” (I run faster than you).
“Ich laufe am schnellsten.” (I run the fastest)
Declension of comparative and superlative adjectives
When using an adjective as an attribute, it describes a noun. In German, that always means the adjective will have to match the noun in number, gender and case:
“Ich bin ein schneller Läufer.” (I am a fast runner.)
“Ich bin eine schnelle Läuferin.” (I am a fast runner.)
“Er ist ein schnellerer Läufer.” (He is a faster runner.)
“Sie ist eine schnellere Läuferin.” (She is a faster runner.)
“Du bist der schnellste Läufer.” (You are the fastest runner.)
“Du bist die schnellste Läuferin.” (You are the fastest runner.)
Comparatives in German
Comparatives in German are close to the English forms, basically using -er for the comparative and -st for the superlative. There are three forms: the positive, the comparative and the superlative adjectives. These can be used as adverbs, predicatives or attributes. Attributive adjectives must be declined, which means you have to match the comparative and superlative adjectives in gender, number and case with the nouns they describe.