Difference Between 'Wie' and 'Als'

Two Words Often Confused by People Learning German

Berlin Cityscape

RICOWde / Getty Images

In German, wie means "as."  The word als also means "as."

It's no wonder that people learning German get confused between the two. Luckily, if you can memorize two simple rules then you can master the difference and continue on your way toward German fluency. 

The Mistake

Wie (adverb/conjunction) is often used instead of als (only a conjunction) and vice versa.

For example, incorrect use might read:

  • Er ist grӧβer wie sein Vater. (Intended to say: He is taller than his father.)
  • Dieses Auto ist teurer wie mein letztes. (Intended to say: This car is more expensive than my last one.)

The correct way to phrase these sentences would be:

  • Er ist grӧβer als sein Vater.
  • Dieses Auto ist teurer als mein letztes.

What's the Difference?

Though both wie and als are used when comparing two items or people, remember that:

  • Wie is used solely when both things compared are equal
  • Als is used only when the items compared are unequal.

Can You Say 'Als Wie?'

There is also the tendency, even among Germans, to use both als wie together in a phrase when comparing two items. For example, one popular slogan for the clothing store KiK states Besser als wie ​man denkt. (Better than you think.)

Grammatically correct, this should read:

  • Besser als man denkt.

The wie is unnecessary and incorrect. 

Try This Memorization Trick

So how can you remember what wie and als stand for when comparing two things?

Try this memorization trick:

  • anders als: different than

If you remember als with the other A-word and that it means "different," then you know you cannot insert als for wie, which is used when comparing two equal (not different) things.