Comparison of adjectives

(The comparison of German adjectives)

Table of contents – comparison of adjectives

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Degrees of comparison
  2. Non-gradable adjectives
  3. Further explanations and exercises

How are German adjectives compared?

In the German language, adjectives can be compared. Such comparison (German name: Steigerung) is needed to illustrate different degrees of properties or characteristics. Similar to English, German grammar distinguishes between three different levels. Examine the details:

  1. The positive (1st degree) expresses equality:
    • „Markus ist so groß wie Ute.“ (Markus is as tall as Ute.)
      • The article positive gives you more exact explanations.
  2. The comparative (2nd degree) is needed to show differences in the respective characteristic. In this case, the ending ‘-er’ is usually added, but there are also irregular adjectives, which have other or additional modifications:
    • „Äpfel sind gesünder als Pfirsiche.“ (Apples are healthier than peaches.)
      • Here, the vowel ‘u’ changes to ‘ü’.
      • For a more detailed explanation and usage, see the article ‘comparative’.
  3. The superlative (3rd degree) serves to indicate the highest value of something. The general rule is to postpone ‘-st’ or ‘-est’ in combination with the declension or inflectional suffix:
    • „Der fleißigste Schüler von allen ist Peter.“ (The hardest working student of all is Peter.)
    • Am gründlichsten arbeitet Sybille.“ (Sybille works most thoroughly.)
      • Please find more exact explanations about the use in the article ‘superlative’.

Which adjectives cannot be compared?

Besides the more significant part of comparable adjectives, some cannot be compared and so do not have comparative degrees. The different reasons for that are:

  1. Adjectives that represent colours:
    • blau (blue), grün (green), rosa (pink), lila (purple), violett (violet), rot (red), gelb (yellow), etc.
    • Information: However, it is possible to achieve a gradation of colours by combining the adjective with other words:
      • dunkelrot (dark red), hellblau (light blue), seidengelb (silky yellow), etc.
  2. Some adjectives already represent the absolute level. Therefore, they cannot follow any comparison either. Such adjectives are named noncomparable adjectives:
    • schwanger (pregnant), absolut (absolute), tot (dead), lebendig (alive), gleich (equal), logisch (logical), optimal (optimal), englisch (English), täglich (daily), ganz (complete), leer (empty), mündlich (spoken), viereckig (rectangular), total (total), maximal (maximum), etc.
  3. And finally, some compound adjectives where the added part (of another word) already stands for the highest degree or level (read how to form adjectives for the respective rules):
    • eiskalt (ice-cold), stockdunkel (pitch-black), abgrundtief (abysmal), zuckersüß (sugar-sweet), bildhübsch (picture-perfect), stahlhart (steely), pfeilschnell (swift as an arrow), etc.
  4. Speciality: In the figurative sense, or if you want to express still another intensification of the maximum, you can compare the above adjectives – contrary to the grammatical rule. Such a rule break is typical for colloquial language and is then called hyperlative:
    • „Pizza ist doch wirklich das italienischste Gericht, das es gibt.“ (corresponds to: Pizza is really the most Italian dish there is.)
    • „Wir haben das maximalste aus dem Motor herausgeholt.“ (corresponds to: We got the most out of the engine.)
    • „Sie genießt sein vollstes Vertrauen.“ (corresponds to: She has his completest confidence.)
    • „Dunkler als die schwärzeste Nacht!“ (corresponds to: Darker than the blackest night.)

Further explanations relating to the ‘Comparison of adjectives’

The following explanations are related to the topic ‘Comparison of German adjectives’ and could be interesting as well:

  • What is colloquial language?
  • Adjectives with irregular comparison