Comparison in English and German

Seminar Paper, 2004

11 Pages, Grade: 2- (B-)


Table of Contents

0. Introduction

1. Degrees of Comparison

2. The Three Types of Comparison

3. A Closer View upon Adjectives
3.1 Monosyllabic Adjectives
3.2 Disyllabic Adjectives
3.3 Adjectives with Three or More Syllables

4. Irregular Comparison

5. Exceptions
5.1 Adjectives with Fixed Degrees
5.2 Adjectives with -less and un-
5.3 Periphrasis with Short Adjectives

6. Inflection

7. Comparison with Adverbs

8. Comparing Things and Persons (Equality or Inequality)
8.1 Comparative
8.2 Superlative
8.3 Exceptions

9. Comparison with no comparative meaning

10. Conclusion


0. Introduction

In language we often use comparison in order to express similarity ("He looks like you") and difference ("He doesn ’ t look like you") or equality ("He is as good as you") and inequality ("He is better than you").

There are a lot of similarities in the English and the German language concerning comparison, so we are going to have a contrastive look at this phenomenon to find out some of the differences. We have worked through several grammar books and noticed that every author has or had his own opinion about comparison. In almost every book comparison is structured in a different way, but never in direct comparison to the German language, so we decided to design our own contrastive structure. This work focuses on the adjective and the adverb, and on how different degrees of comparison are created.

The literature used by the authors was, for English matters mainly “A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language” by Quirk, et al., furthermore, Lamprecht´s “Grammatik der englischen Sprache”. For reference in German we made use of two editions of the “Duden Volume 4: Grammatik der deutschen Gegenwartssprache”.

1. Degrees of Comparison

In the English language, the absolute form fast can have a comparative form (faster) by adding -er, and a superlative form (fastest) by adding -est. The German equivalent is schnell, schnell-er, am schnell-sten. It is obvious that English comparison has got a lot in common with the German "Steigerung" because the two systems work in the same way. There are also no significant differences in meaning.

2. The Three Types of Comparison

Most adjectives and adverbs are gradable and therefore have three types of comparison, i.e. comparison in relation to a higher degree (better / more beautiful than...), to the same degree (... as beautiful as), or to a lower degree by less and least (less beautiful). Adjectives and adverbs which compare things in relation to a higher degree can be created with inflection (fast - faster - fastest) or periphrasis (intelligent - more intelligent - most intelligent) (Quirk 1992: 458). Periphrasis is not used in the German language, because of its synthetic structure.

3. A Closer look at Adjectives

In general, adjectives (or adverbs) are used to form comparisons. They express a certain quality which makes a comparison to other degrees possible. Therefore we are going to have a closer look at adjectives in the following paragraphs.

3.1 Monosyllabic Adjectives

Whether you have to use inflectional or periphrastic comparison depends mostly on the length of the adjective. Monosyllabic adjectives form comparison by inflection (fast - faster - fastest). Adjectives ending in -e only take -r and -st, i.e. late - later - latest; if the adjective ends in a consonant following a vowel, the consonant is doubled in the comparative and superlative form (big - big g er - big g est). German speakers inflect all adjectives in the same pattern, except 20 adjectives whose root vowel is a, o or u. With adjectives of this sort you have to create an umlaut (arm -ärmer - amärmsten). Referring to the Duden (Volume 4 1984: 712), very few adjectives can have both forms (krumm - krummer/krümmer or rot - roter/röter).

3.2 Disyllabic Adjectives

Adjectives which have two syllables are largely used with more and most (beautiful - more beautiful - most beautiful). But adjectives ending in - y take - ier and - iest as an ending (happy - happier - happiest). In this case - y changes to - i before the comparative endings (Quirk 1992: 461). Words ending in an unstressed vowel, in -l or in -er, are inflected like monosyllabic adjectives (narrow - narrower - narrowest or simple - simpler - simplest). Beside that, the English language knows some adjectives which can have either inflectional or periphrastic comparison, as there are polite (politer or more polite) or common (commoner or more common), just to mention two examples.

The last disyllabic group to be mentioned contains adjectives ending in - ing, - ed, - ful and - less. They all take the periphrastic comparison as a must (i.e. painful - more painful - most painful or careless - more careless - most careless).

The creation of comparative forms is not as complicated in the German as it is in the English language. Concerning the endings, the German language does not distinguish between monosyllabic or polysyllabic adjectives. There are some special rules though for adjectives with - el at the end. To form the comparative, the ' e' in the last syllable is omitted (i.e. dunkel - dunkler). Another exception we have to mention here is, that it is possible to avoid two or more unstressed e ´ s by way of leaving out the first ' e' as a root vowel, as for example in trocken - trock ener or ein heit ereres Wetter (Der Duden Volume 4 1984: 307). Furthermore, the only disyllabic adjective where an umlaut is possible but not obligatory is gesund (gesünder - am gesündesten).

3.3 Adjectives with Three or More Syllables

Adjectives with three or more syllables, like intelligent or beautiful, can only take a periphrastic comparison (intelligent - more intelligent - most intelligent). The only exception are adjectives beginning both with un- and representing the opposite of a disyllabic word ending in -y. Such adjectives are unhappy (unhappier - unhappiest) or untidy (untidier - untidiest).

In contrast, the German language creates the comparative forms in a more consistent way by altering the basis by using inflection, even if the adjective has got more syllables (i.e. konsequent - konsequenter - am konsequentesten).

4. Irregular Comparison

If an adjective has got irregular forms of comparison it means that its comparative and superlative forms can be completely different from the word-stem. There is only a small group of these adjectives, but it is essential for a learner of the English language to memorize them, since they are highly frequent (Quirk 1992: 458) and often used in spoken language. Adjectives like good (good - better - best), bad (bad - worse - worst), little (little - less - least) or much (much - more - most) are the most common adjectives with irregular forms of comparison.

The adjective (and adverb) far is a quite unusual exception, because there are two ways of creating the comparative and superlative forms. Quirk (1992: 459) points out that speakers who want to express abstract relations have to use far - further - furthest (i.e. "...further from the truth"), but in order to express physical distance, far - further - furthest is also accepted. The use of far - farther - farthest, however, is restricted to relations of physical distance ("The bus is farther away than the car"). These rules are often mixed up and are especially difficult to understand for foreign learners of the English language. Confusion is mostly created because further is often used in the sense of ' more', 'additional' or 'later', and not as the comparative form of far.

In the German language, adjectives also have irregular comparison. The stem of the word gut changes completely into besser (comparative) and am besten (superlative). The same applies for viel - mehr - am meisten. Both are highly frequent and therefore important for learners of German.


Excerpt out of 11 pages


Comparison in English and German
University of Bamberg  (Chair for english language science and the middle ages)
PS II: Contrastive Linguistics English - German
2- (B-)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
370 KB
The biggest mistakes are being corrected
Comparison, English, German, Contrastive, Linguistics, English, German
Quote paper
Markus Schneider (Author)Denis Wippler (Author), 2004, Comparison in English and German, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Comparison in English and German

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free