When you start learning German, you’ll learn about adjectives (describing words) in their basic form, such as ‘German is easy‘. But before long you’ll want to compare two things in a sentence such as ‘German is easier than Korean’. You might even want to make a statement such as ‘German is not the easiest language to learn’.
This is why German comparatives and superlatives are so important.
The good news is that as an English speaker, comparatives and superlatives in German are relatively straightforward for you. They follow similar patterns to their English counterparts.
After reading this post you will know:
- What German comparatives and superlatives are & how they are formed
- What exceptions to look out for
- How to use German comparatives & superlatives in sentences
What are German Comparatives & Superlatives?
German comparatives and superlatives are forms that adjectives (describing words) take in order to modify their original meaning. Let’s take a look at an example in English:
- Easy [the basic adjective, known as the ‘positive’]
- Easier [comparative]
- Easiest [superlative]
We use the positive adjective to describe nouns. They are used to show that two things are the same, neither one is greater or less than the other:
- That pineapple is small / Both pineapples are quite small
We use the comparative adjective to compare two or more nouns. To say something is more or less than the other:
- The pineapple on the right is smaller than the other
The superlative is used to compare nouns in the extreme. To say something is the most or least compared to the other:
- That is the smallest pineapple I’ve ever seen
How to Form German Comparatives
To form many of the German comparatives simply take the basic (positive) adjective and add -er to the end.
Let’s take a look at some examples:
|Positive Adjective||Comparative Adjective||English|
|easy / easier|
|cheap / cheaper|
|early / earlier|
|small / smaller|
|nice / nicer|
Some adjectives add an umlaut to the first vowel as well as adding -er to the end:
|old / older|
|long / longer|
|cold / colder|
|big / bigger|
|short / shorter|
Adjectives that end in -el in the positive (basic) form lose the ‘e’ before they add the -er to the end.
Some adjectives which end -er or -en may also drop the ‘e’ before adding -er to the end.
This is done just to make the comparative easier to pronounce.
|dark / darker|
|expensive / more expensive|
And some comparatives are completely irregular meaning they don’t follow the patterns set out previously. We also have irregular comparatives in English, for example we say ‘good’ and ‘better’, we don’t say ‘good’ and ‘gooder’.
A lot of time if they are irregular in English, they are also irregular in German:
|good / better|
|much / more|
|high / higher|
German is Easier: In English we often have to add the word ‘more’ in front of an adjective: ‘more expensive’, ‘more complicated’ etc. In German this doesn’t happen, instead we simply add -er to the end of most adjectives:
|complicated = complicated-er = more complicated|
|interesting = interesting-er = more interesting|
Using ‘als’ to compare in sentences
In order to make a comparison in a sentence, we need to use the word als. In this context think of als as meaning ‘than’. We use it in the same way as we do in English:
Ich bin älter als meine Schwester.
|I am older than my sister.|
Das Wetter ist heute kälter als gestern.
|The weather today is colder than yesterday.|
Using ‘so … wie’ to compare in sentences
To compare two things that are the same, we use the phrase so … wie or genauso … wie. With the ‘positive’ (basic) adjective going in the middle. These two phrases mean the same and are interchangeable.
Think of this phrase as translating as ‘as … as’.
- so glücklich wie = as happy as
- genauso reich wie = as rich as
Diese Wohnung ist genauso hell wie die andere.
|This apartment is as bright as the other.|
Ich bin so glücklich wie meine Schwester.
|I am as happy as my sister.|
Using ‘nicht so … wie’ to compare in sentences
The opposite phrase is nicht so … wie which means ‘not as … as’. Use this to make the comparison between two things which not the same:
Ich bin nicht so reich wie mein Nachbar.
|I am not as rich as my neighbour.|
Sein Auto ist nicht so neu wie meines.
|His car is not as new as mine.|
How to Form German Superlatives
If you want to say something is ‘the best’, ‘the biggest’ or ‘the nicest’ you need to use the German superlative.
They are formed by adding -st to the end of the positive (basic) adjective. Things get a little more complicated because we also have to take into account the adjective ending if the adjective appears before the noun.
Because of this, if a superlative adjective goes in front of a noun, we may use the ending -ste or -sten. German adjective endings are a whole other subject, but for now, if you use a superlative before a noun, know that if you put either -ste or -sten on the end, you’ll have a 50/50 chance of it being correct.
Let’s break this down a bit:
Das ist die kleinste Ananas.
|That is the smallest pineapple.|
- In this example Ananas (pineapple) is the feminine noun
- The adjective, klein (small) appears in front of it
- The adjective changes to the superlative, -st is added: kleinst (smallest)
- The ending is declined, -e is added: kleinste
Adjectives ending -t, -tz, -z, -sch, -ss or -ß form the superlative by adding -est to the end instead of -st, to make them easier to pronounce. It is then declined depending on the case and noun gender, so either -e or -en is also added.
Ich habe den süßesten Kuchen.
|I have the sweetest cake.|
- In this example Kuchen (cake) is the masculine noun
- The adjective, süß (sweet) appears in front of it
- The adjective changes to the superlative: süßest
- The ending is declined, -en is added: süßesten
Using ‘am’ to use the superlative in sentences
Sometimes the superlative doesn’t appear in front of a noun:
- I have the biggest cake [noun]
- My cake [noun] is the biggest
In this case we need to add the word am before the superlative. Am ist the contracted form of an + dem. In this case am is a bit like ‘the’, but we have to use am not the definite article.
An + dem (am) demands the dative case, so whenever it is used the endings are declined -sten or -esten.
Let’s take a look at an example:
Ich habe das schnellste Auto.
|I have the fastest car.|
Mein Auto ist am schnellsten.
|My car is the fastest.|
In the first example the superlative appears before the noun (Auto). In the second example the adjective appears after the noun. Therefore we need to use am before the superlative.
In this post you have learned the 3 forms adjectives can take: positive, comparative and superlative. You learned how to use comparatives and superlatives in a sentence and also that superlatives have to be declined in the usual way for adjectives.
Here are the adjectives you learned in this post: