Comparisons in German

comparisons-in-german-imageHello everyone,

and welcome to another part of our German is Easy Learn German online course… the coursiest course under the sun.
We do it in the gym, we do it at school, we do it when we’re visiting a friend for the first time, we do it when we have a new partner… or an old partner, we do it when we meet new people, we do it when we read a magazine, we do it all the time …and it makes us really really happy. Always. It can be incredibly hellthy… ops… haha… I mean healthy, it is healthy for us. Today we’ll learn about

comparisons in German

Like… this is bigger than that and so on. Usually the rules for making comparisons in a language are rather simple. But in German it is… well… nah kidding. Admit it you were worried a bit :). It’s pretty simple actually. Sure, there are some speed bumps like weird forms and sentence structure but nothing too bad. Today we’ll learn all about regular comparisons and we’ll see what the more-form is and how to build it. In part 2, we’ll look at the most-form and we’ll find out what the difference is between am besten and das Beste. And of course we’ll start…  with a little background.
I looove background. Maybe I should ask it out some day. Then I could introduce it to my friends and be like “Steve, this is my background. Background, this is Steve, my produc….” What? Nooo, I’m not high… never am. I’m just a dork, that’s all… anyway… where were we… uhm… yeah background on comparisons.
So… we want to compare two items, A and B. There are two approaches to doing that or better, two points of view. Now, of course we can compare A to B and B to A but that is not what I mean. I mean, that we can talk about equality or about difference.

  • A is as big as B.

Here, the comparison is based on equality.

  • A is bigger than B.

And here, it is based on difference.
So far so obvious but now comes the crucial part… the point of view has little to do with the actual items.

  • A is not as big as B.

Here, the size is NOT equal, but I still I made my comparison by looking at equality. And of course I can compare equal things by looking at how different they are.

  • A is not bigger than B

Okay… to really express equality I’d actually have to say

  • A is neither bigger nor smaller than B.

Using the other way would be the better choice here. But anyway. There are those two ways. They have a different focus and, as we can see in the examples, quite a different grammar. And there is another difference, because both ways are not limited to simple yes or no. You can  kind of “grade” them and the words for that are different, too.

  • A is [(by far) not – almost – about – just – exactly] as big as B.
  • A is [not – almost – a little – considerably – much – a lot – infinitely ] bigger than B.

Now, I don’t know if it is like that for ALL languages but it is for German. So we’ve got two distinct way to look at and we’ll start with… equality.

comparing equality

The English construction is

  •  as  …  as

and it German it is…

  • so … wie

That’s right. It’s NOT with als. And it makes sense in a way. Imagine you tell someone about a huge fish you caught. In English you’d say

  • It was that/(so) big.

and spread your arms. In a way this is also a comparison… only that one side is not put into words. Now, in German what you would say is this:

  • Er war so groß.

Not “das groß”. So is the prime answer to wie (how)?

  • Wie groß? So groß.  (for more on so check here)
  • How big? That big.

And that’s why using so for these comparisons isn’t all that weird after all. And what about wie? Well, a few centuries back people would still use instead the second as but als is super busy. It’s used for past and for the difference approach and I guess that started to be confusing. And wie and so make a great team anyway. And that’s why in German it is:

  • so … wie.


  • Thomas ist so groß wie John.
  • Thomas is so tall like John (lit.)
  • Thomas is as tall as John.
  • Ich habe gestern nicht so viel geschafft, wie ich mir vorgenommen hatte.
  • I didn’t do as much as I had planned yesterday

or with a negative

  • Mit Fahrrad bin ich nicht so schnell wie mit Bus.
  • By bike I’m not so fast like with bus. (lit.)
  • By bike I’m not as fast as by bus.

Now, we were talking background we learned that we can “grade” comparisons. So we can throw little words in there to make it more or less or simply… not. So let’s look at those and collect some vocabulary :)

  • Ich bin beim Schach [bei weitem ] nicht  [annähernd ] so gut wie du.
  • I am  [by far]  not [nearly] as good as you at chess.
  • Ich esse Pizza [fast / beinahe / annähernd / quasi ] so gerne wie Nudeln.
  • I like eating pizza  [almost /nearly] as much as I like eating pasta.
  • In Berlin kostet ein Bier [ungefähr / in etwa / zirka ] so viel wie in Hamburg.
  • A beer in Berlin costs [about] as much as in Hamburg.

Now, there is actually one important word missing in that list and that word is genau. You may know it as the German version of exactly.

  • “Deutsch hat also 4 Fälle?”
  • “So, German has 4 cases?”

Germans love to say genau… genau, genau, genau. Achso, stimmt and genau and you’re set for any conversation pretty much. People would say

  • genau so … wie 

all the time. So much so, that it finally lost its meaning.

  • Ich esse genauso viel wie du.
  • I eat as much as you.

The German sentence doesn’t have much focus on EXACTLY, that’s why I would translate it as just a normal comparison. It doesn’t “feel” exactly to me. And that’s probably also the reason why it is officially written as one word… so we can distinguish it from the case when we actually want to express exactly. Although, even then people might use an extra exact.

  • Ich esse exakt genauso viel wie du. (up to the calory)
  • I eat exactly as much as you.

And then, since we’re at it… here’s a different inflection of the same sentence with a slightly different meaning.

  • Ich esse exakt genau SO viel wie du.
  • I eat just as much as you (and not a crumb more – implies a certain reluctance).

Anyway.. generally I’d say for very short comparisons that involve just one verb people tend to use genauso instead of so just for flow. As soon as the phrase gets a little more complicated so will do and the genau starts to sound more and more exact. And you shouldn’t worry about that too much anyway… I just wanted to mention it so you don’t get confused by all the genauso-s you hear.
Now, a few things before we move on to the difference-comparison.
Not all comparisons are complete. In English, it’s simple because either part is introduced by as. In German, there are two different words so you need to think which part you’re talking about… the characteristic or the thing you compare with.

  • It is not as bad. (for example: as expected )
  • Es ist nicht so schlimm.
  • (Contrived example: I’ll do it as good) As you wish.
  • Wie du wünschst.

And then, there is a very handy phrasing you should know…

  • so gut wie

Literally, this means (as) good as but in German it is used much more … always in a sense of practically or almost… even as a stand alone.

  • Der Winter ist so gut wie vorbei.
  • The winter is practically over.
  • “Bist du mit deiner Hausarbeit fertig?”
    So gut wie.
  • “Are you done with your homework.”

All right. We’ll come back to that later when we talk about sentence structure but first, let’s take a look at the second way of comparisons.

Comparing differences

The structure for these comparisons is very similar in German and in English.

  • A is newer than B.

Obviously we need 2 things… the word than and a special form of the adjective. The German word for than is … als. So in German we literally say

  • “A is newer as B.”

That feels wrong of course but not so in German. In German als “feels” unequal. Just like than “feels”unequal in English. That’s why als doesn’t work for the other comparison any more.

  • A ist so groß als B. … (wrong)

That is confusing because the als makes me feel that B is everything… but not equal to A. But you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly. Than is als. Now what about the special form. The correct grammar jargon term for it is comparatively
unknown so let’s just call it the more-form. English has two ways to do it.

  • nice … this is the normal form
  • nicer… this is the more-form
  • interesting … normal form
  • more interesting… more-form

The first way is how it was done by the old Germanic tribes… just add -er… and possibly mess around with the vowel a bit, as we’ll see later. The more-way is how they do it in French and Italian. More nice, more fast, more interesting. And I guess the Brits, who kept importing old Latin terms, just figured they’d just use the same grammar as the Romance languages… at least for the “new”words.  Now, German did import all those words too. But German has ZERO shame when it comes to “fitting in” foreign words… 

  • Die neuen, freshen Shows.
  • Der Film hat mich gebrainwashed…

That is no joke. People do that every day. If you don’t believe me, just check out the other 22.000 hits Google has for that.
It it was just the same back then. Germans were just like “Oh optimal is an adjective?! Great.”

“Zwei Bier sind optimaler als ein Bier.”
“Sehr schön gesagt! Prost!”

The French who were also in that bar shuddered and tried to object…

“Well, first of all ‘optimaler’ isn’t a word. It should be ‘mehr optimal’.
 secondly optimal is already the maximum so there is no mor…”

But in vain. Nobody was listening. And there we are today… to build the more-form of an adjective you have to add -er, no matter how Latin, no matter how long, no matter how compound

  • schön-er                                       (prettier, more beautiful)
  • interessant-er                           (more interesting)
  • introvertiert-er                         (more introvert)
  • herausragend-er                     (more distinguishable)
  • vernachlässigbar-er              (more neglectable)

And no matter whether adjective or adverb

  • schnell-erquicker AND more quickly

Now, of god damn course there are exceptions to this. The very basic ones behave totally differently.. but that’s the same for English.

  • gut -besser
  • good -better
  • viel – mehr
  • much/many – more

German has many more. But they’re not all that bad. Actually, let’s not call them exceptions. Let’s call them “rule with a bonus”. And what other could the bonus be than German’s truly… the umlaut

  • groß – größer (tall/big)
  • lang – länger (long
  • warm- wärmer (warm)
  • klug – klüger (smart)
  • hoch – höher (high)… okay, here also the c drops out but whatever

I think there is no way of telling when the umlaut hits.

  •        wach –        wacher (awake)
  • schwach – schwächer  (weak)

In courses and text books hey make you learn many of those early on and they do pay attention in tests and exams… a little too much for my taste actually. Sure, the forms are important and if you say “hocher” you sound incredibly clumsy but you will  be understood. So unless you need it for a test I’d say the best is to just pick it up over time. Speaking of time… time for some examples… what was than again?… uh yeah… als

  • Heute ist es kälter als gestern.
  • Today it’s colder than yesterday.
  • Ich hab’ heute mehr als genug gearbeitet.
  • I’ve worked more than enough today.
  • Maria läuft verführerischer als Jane.
  • Maria walks more seductively than Jane.
  • Ich habe weniger von dem Kuchen gegessen als du.
  • I ate less of the cake than you.

It’s really simple. The main challenge for most of you will be to get this “more-pattern” deactivated and just add -er. But if you say “mehr teuer” instead of “teurer” you’ll still be understood. Just… be aware and concentrate a bit and it’ll come.
Now, for the grading words…there are more than for the equal comparison so let’s just do the important ones…

  • Das kostet [nicht] mehr als letztes Jahr.
  • That doesn’t cost more than last year.
  • Thomas’ Küche ist [kaum / ein bisschen / nur wenig / nicht viel] sauberer als sein Bad.
  • Thomas’ kitchen is [barely / a little / scarcely / not much ] cleaner than his bathroom.
  • Der Rotwein schmeckt [deutlich / bei weitem / viel  / unendlich viel] leckerer als erwartet.
  • The red wine is [clearly / by far / a lot / infinitely] tastier than expected.
  • Ich gehe dieses Jahr [definitiv /ohne Zweifel / ganz klar / eindeutig] öfter laufen als letztes Jahr.
  • This year, I go running [definitely / no doubt / clearly / (unambiguously) ] more often than last year.

Another useful thing might be this very common idiom… which seems to exist in quite a few languages :)

  • mehr oder weniger
  • more or less

Here, we can also see that the German word for few actually has a regular more-form… or less-form… wenig – weniger. And you can also use that to build less- comparisons. And those do come in handy if the adjective has no real opposite

  • Das ist weniger wünschenswert.
  • That is less desirable.

All right. And now for the structure…

Comparisons and sentence structure

There are a lot of small structural differences and it would be tedious to look at all them all…. but there are two things that are worth noting. The first one has to do with the equal-comparison. So … wie… as in English, we’re dealing with two parts here but in German there will probably more stuff in between… namely the infamous leftover verb.

  • Ich kann fast so schnell denken, wie ich reden kann.
  • I can think almost as fast as I can talk.
  • Heute habe ich fast so viel vor wie du.
  • Today, I have almost as much planned as you. (is that idiomatic?)
  • Ich weiß, dass ich nicht so schnell sprechen kann wie ein Muttersprachler.
  • I know that I can’t speak as fast as a native speaker.

The German sentences have the usual features. The first 2 are main sentences. So the first part of the verb has its fat ass parked on position 2 and it won’t move an inch… then comes all the rest including the so and then comes the leftover verb. And in the third example, we’re looking at a side-sentence. The verb können (kann) got grossed out by the dass and so it moved to the end. And I know that many of you kinda sorta feel like these examples are against one of the most basic rules so let’s get right to the second structural thing. And this applies to both way… the equal way and the difference way…

  • Thomas hat sich mehr von dem Film erwartet als Maria.
  • Thomas expected more of the movie than Maria did.

The glaring question about this is “We’ve learned that the verb always goes to the end of the sentence… so uhm… why TF isn’t it there?.”
Well, take this example …

  • Ich habe ein Müsli gegessen, weil ich hungrig war.
  • I ate a musli because I was hungry.

The because-part belongs to the sentence so based on the rules we’d expect the gegessen to be at the very end. But in fact, the rule should be “The verb goes to the end of the activity”. We have two activities here… eating and being. It is possible to fit in the because-part before the gegessen but having them one after the other is better. Now you are probably like “Okay, yeah I kinda knew that… but what does it have to do with the comparisons?”
Well, let’s take this example…

  • Thomas is bigger than Maria.

On the surface, there is only one verb here… to be. But there is actually a second is implied.

  • Thomas is bigger than Maria is.

It is the same verb, sure … but it doesn’t have to be. We can replace it by all kinds of other verbs without altering the underlying structure

  • Thomas is bigger than Maria thinks/expects/likes/can handle.

Now, let’s try a  different example…

  • I ate as much as you (ate).

The ate doesn’t give us new information and so it can be left out . And in clunky German it SHOULD be left out.

  • Ich habe so viel gegessen, wie du (gegessen h…

This is soooo boring I can’t even finish typing it. We all know what’s going on and there is no need to spell it out. And so the als du just sits there all alone looking as if it had been moved out of the sentence. But no. It is right where it is supposed to be. What I can do is take it and move it INTO the sentence but the normal position is behind the verb… because in the underlying structure there is a second verb, a second activity there.

  • Ich habe mehr gegessen, als du dir vorstellen kannst.
  • I have eaten more than you can imagine.

Here, we can’t skip the second verb because it’s different to the first. In theory we can still move the whole als-part into the first sentence…

  • Ich habe mehr, als du dir vorstellen kannst, gegessen.

But this isn’t very nice. Just like with the because-example we had earlier it is good to keep activities separated. Especially if we’re already in a side-sentence.

  • My girlfriend is angry because I slept longer than what we had said.
  • Meine Freundin ist sauer, weil ich länger, als wir gesagt haben, geschlafen habe.

I know, you’re probably like “Hmmm… Gesagt haben geschlafen habe … that’s so awful, it’s probably poetic by  German standards”. But no… it sounds bad. So it’s better keep the als-part separate.

  • Meine Freundin ist sauer, weil ich länger geschlafen habe, als wir gesagt haben.

Bottom line of this… the als-part usually comes AFTER the final verb because in essence it is just a truncated side-sentence.
All right.

We’re almost done for today but there is one more thing we need to talk about…. the word gern. Gern is an adverb that means roughly something like with pleasure. It is used a lot though, and especially so in the construction that means to like.

  • Ich schwimme gern.
  • I like swimming. (I’ll add a link below for more info on that)

This gern can also be used in comparisons.

  • Ich schwimme genauso gern wie ich reite.
  • I like swimming as much as I like riding.

And gern also has a more-form… you’ve probably seen it already… it’s lieber.

  • Ich trinke lieber Rotwein als Weißwein.
  • I drink red wine with “more with pleasurely” than I drink white wine. (lit.)
  • I prefer red wine to white wine.

All this is pretty by the book but the whole gern-expression is so different to English, that it seem confusing. It is really used a lot though so it is really worth an effort.
Anyway… I think that’s enough for today. Part 2 will be about endings and the most-form but with what you have learned today you should be set to compare anything to anything.
The 3 important points to take away from this are:

  • as … as…  translated to  so … wie … 
  • than  translates to  als
  • the more-form in German is always done by adding -er … and adding some umlauts here and there

If you have any questions or suggestions just leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time.

Oh… and if you want to read more…

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