Comparison: gut, besser, am besten

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Comparisons in German generally work in a way that is similar to English. An Austrian brewery advertises its Gösser beer brand with the slogan: "gut, besser, Gösser" ("good, better, Gösser"). The German edition of Reader's Digest is known as Das Beste (...aus Reader's Digest).

Comparison Adjectives and Adverbs in German

To form the comparative for most adjectives or adverbs in German you simply add -er, as inneu/neuer (new/newer) or klein/kleiner (small/smaller).

For the superlative, English uses the -est ending, the same as in German except that German often drops the e and usually adds an adjective ending: (der) neueste (the newest) or (das) kleinste (the smallest).

Unlike English, however, German never uses "more" (mehr) with another modifier to form the comparative. In English something may be "more beautiful" or someone could be "more intelligent." But in German these are both expressed with the -er ending: schöner andintelligenter.

So far, so good. But unfortunately German also has some irregular comparisons, just as English does. Sometimes these irregular forms are quite similar to those in English. Compare, for instance, the English good/better/best with the German gut/besser/am besten. On the other hand, high/higher/highest is hoch/höher/am höchsten in German. But there are only a few of these irregular forms, and they are easy to learn, as you can see below.

Irregular Adjective/Adverb Comparison

Irregular Adjective/Adverb Comparison
bald (soon)eher (sooner)am ehesten (soonest)
gern (gladly)lieber (more gladly)am liebsten (most gladly)
groß (big)größer (bigger)am größten (biggest)
der/die/das größte
gut (good)besser (better)am besten (best)
der/die/das beste
hoch (high)höher (higher)am höchsten (highest)
der/die/das höchste
nah (near)näher (nearer)am nächsten (nearest)
der/die/das nächste
viel (much)mehr (more)am meisten (most)
die meisten

There is one more irregularity that affects both the comparative and superlative of many German adjectives and adverbs: the added umlaut ( ¨ ) over ao, or u in most one-syllable adjectives/adverbs.

Below are some examples of this kind of comparison. Exceptions (do not add an umlaut) include bunt (colorful), falsch (wrong), froh (merry), klar (clear), laut (loud), and wahr(true).

Irregular Comparison Examples

Irregular Comparison - Umlaut Added
dumm (dumb)dümmer (dumber)am dümmsten (dumbest)
der/die/das dümmste
kalt (cold)kälter (colder)am kältesten* (coldest)
der/die/das kälteste*
  *Note the "connecting" e in the superlative: kälteste
klug (smart)klüger (smarter)am klügsten (smartest)
der/die/das klügste
lang (long)länger (longer)am längsten (longest)
der/die/das längste
stark (strong)stärker (stronger)am stärksten (strongest)
der/die/das stärkste
warm (warm)wärmer (warmer)am wärmsten (warmest)
der/die/das wärmste

In order to use the comparative forms above and to express relative comparisons or equality/inequality ("as good as" or "not as tall as") in German, you also need to know the following phrases and formulations using alsso-wie, or je-desto:

  • mehr/größer/besser als = more/bigger/better than
  • (nicht) so viel/groß/gut wie = (not) as much/big/good as
  • je größer desto besser = the bigger/taller the better

Below are a few sample sentences to show how the positive, comparative, and superlative forms are used in German. In Part Two, we offer you a chance to test your ability to use these forms and structures in our comparison exercises.

My sister is not as tall as I am.Meine Schwester ist nicht so groß wie ich.
His Audi is much more expensive than my VW.Sein Audi ist viel teurer als mein VW.
We prefer to travel by train.Wir fahren lieber mit der Bahn.
Karl is the oldest.
Karl is oldest.
Karl ist der Älteste.
Karl ist am ältesten.
The more people, the better.Je mehr Leute, desto besser.
He likes to play basketball, but most of all he likes to play soccer.Er spielt gern Basketball, aber am liebsten spielt er Fußball.
The ICE [train] travels/goes the fastest.Der ICE fährt am schnellsten.
Most people don't drive as fast as he does.Die meisten Leute fahren nicht so schnell wie er.

Note that if you make the frequent comparison "mistake" made by many English-speakers ("older than me" rather than "older than I"), it can lead to mistakes in German! Learning German helps your English grammar!.