7.2 Comparatives and Superlatives

Comparisons of Equality

In comparisons of equality, one find tan (“as”) + adjective or adverb, or a form of tanto + noun. The adjective, adverb or noun is followed by como (“as”):

Virginia es tan simpática como Teresa. Virginia is as friendly as Teresa.
Manolo canta tan mal como Federico. Manolo sings as badly as Federico.
Los Castillo tienen tantos coches como los Duarte. The Castillos have as many cars as the Duartes.

Tanto como, with no word in between, simply translates as “as much as” or “as many as.”

Uds. hablan tanto como nosotros. You talk as much as we do.

Tan, when it is not used in a comparative sentence, and when coming before an adjective or another adverb, translates as “so”:

Antonio es tan simple. Antonio is so simple.

If a noun follows or precedes the adjective, tan translates as “such”:

Antonio es una persona tan simple. Antonio is such a simple person.

Comparisons of Inequality

To form a comparison of inequality with an adjective, adverb or noun, place más (“more”) or menos (“less”) before the adjective or adverb and place que after it:

California tiene más habitantes bilingües que Florida. California has more bilingual inhabitants than Florida.
Uruguay tiene menos gente que Paraguay. Uruguay has fewer people than Paraguay.

Comparing actions is done using a verb plus más que or menos que: 

Sandra duerme más que Ángela. Sandra sleeps more than Angela.
¿Por qué hablas menos que antes en la clase? ¿Pasó algo? Why do you speak less than before in class? Did something happen?

Superlatives

In the superlative you see the same construction as in comparisons of inequality, with the difference that a definite article agreeing with the subject will precede más or menos. The superlative phrase takes the preposition de, though the English translation is often rendered by “in”:

En el año 2011 Nuevo México todavía tenía el porccentaje más alto de hispanos de todos los estados del país. In the year 2011 New Mexico still had the highest percentage of Hispanics of all the states in the country.
Este es el vino más caro del restaurante. This is the most expensive wine in the restaurant.
En el hemisferio norte, el 21 de diciembre es el día más corto del año. In the northern hemisphere, December 21st is the shortest day of the year.

In the superlative, grande does not shorten to gran before an adjective and may retain the meaning of “biggest” or “largest”:

Es el más grande error de todos. It’s the biggest error of all.

As in English, there are various irregular comparatives and superlatives:

grande large
pequeño small
poco little, few
bueno good
malo bad
mayor larger, largest, older*, oldest*, greater, greatest
menor smaller, smallest, younger*, youngest*
menos less, least, fewer, fewest
peor (cognate: pejorative) worse, worst

*This meaning refers only to people.

The comparatives más bueno and más malo are used occasionally, but with a different meaning that refers to inherent moral qualities:

La señora Cavazos es más buena que las otras. Mrs. Cavazos is kinder than the others.
Aquel hombre es más malo que nadie. That man is more wicked (evil) than anyone.

Más bueno and más malo may also be used in exclamations and denote an absolute superlative (See sections 11.5 and 11.8)

¡Qué vino más malo! What awful (extremely bad) wine!
¡Qué profesor más bueno! What a kind (an extremely kind) teacher!

“Older” and “oldest” may also be expressed by más viejo while más pequeño means not only “younger” and “youngest,” but “smaller” or “smallest.” Nonetheless the irregular forms mayor and menor are more frequently seen.

¡Ojo! Be careful in reading not to confuse mayor and mejor:

Es la mayor ciudad del país. It’s the largest city in the country.
Es la mejor ciudad del país. It’s the best city in the country.

Long Comparative Forms

There also exists “long” comparative forms that are used when referring to ideas as well as to specific objects. When referring to an idea, thought or notion, Spanish routinely uses de lo que: 

El urdu es más difícil de lo que piensas. Urdu is more difficult than (what) you think.
La ciudad es menos peligrosa de lo que era en el pasado. The city is less dangerous than (what) it was in the past.

Other times the comparatives agree with the specific noun:

Le ofrecen un sueldo menor del que* puede aceptar. They’re offering him a lower salary than (what) he can accept.
Siempre compra más carne de la que pueden comer. She always buys more meat than (what) they can eat.
Hay más testigos de los que necesitamos. There are more witnesses than we need.
Nos daba más tareas de las que podíamos hacer. He used to give us more homework than (which) we could do.

*The del is the contraction of deel, the el referring to the noun el sueldo. 

Also be aware that before a number que changes to de and the meaning is still “than”:

Los Olivares tienen más de cuatro hijos. The Olivares have more than four children.

Vocabulario básico

Verbos:

alegrar(se)- to make happy, to become happy, to be happy
arreglar- to fix, to repair, to arrange
asustar(se)- to frighten, to scare, to be frightened
atender (ie)- to pay attention to, to take care of, to look after (false friend)
calentar (ie)- to heat (up), to warm (up)
coger- to take hold of, to catch*
escoger- to choose*
esconder(se)- to hide
exigir- to demand
experimentar (ie)- to experiment, to experience (false friend)
proteger- to protect
resolver (ue)- to solve, to resolve
temer- to fear (cognate: timorous)

Sustantivos:

la calificación- grade, qualification
la cuenca- river basin

Adjetivos:

alegre- happy
bello- beautiful
bonito- pretty
casado- married
hermoso- beautiful
lindo- pretty
lujoso- luxurious
sencillo- simple
soltero- single, unmarried

*All verbs ending in e or i-ger or -gir change the g to before a and o for phonetic reasons, for example, cojo, escojo, proteja (see section 11.2)

Last revised on June 16, 2021.