A basic element of learning any language is knowing how to compare items. Comparatives and superlatives may seem slightly more complex in English than in Portuguese but nonetheless, they have quite clear rules which are not too difficult to master. First, let’s look at some examples:
a. Mexico City is bigger than London. (A Cidade do México é maior do que Londres, comparativo)
b. London is more expensive than Mexico City. (Londres é mais cara do que a Cidade do México, comparativo)
c. Madrid is the biggest city in Spain. (Madrid é a maior cidade de Espanha, superlativo)
d. Paris is the most beautiful city in the world. (Paris é a cidade mais bonita do mundo, superlativo)
When do you use this grammar point?
Comparatives and superlatives are types of adjectives. As you may remember from our recent overview of English grammar, an adjective is a word that describes a noun (e.g. a tall building). When we want to compare this noun to other nouns, we need to use comparatives and superlatives. To use a comparative, we need to be talking about two or more nouns and comparing them to each other in order to decide which is better, taller, more interesting, etc. (see sentences a and b above). Conversely, we use a superlative to select just one noun from a group because it is the best, the tallest, the most interesting, etc. (see sentences c and d above).
What are the rules for the structure?
The formation of the comparative and the superlative depends on the number of syllables in the base adjective.
While the table above shows the basic rules for comparatives and superlatives, remember to be careful with spelling rules when you’re writing. For example, for Type 1 adjectives which end in consonant + vowel + consonant, remember that you need to double the final consonant
- thin → thinner than / the thinnest
magro → mais magro do que / o mais magro
Find more information about spelling rules and other features of comparatives and superlatives.
Exceptions and variations
While the above rules are true for the vast majority of adjectives, there are a small number of special adjectives which have irregular forms. The three most common exceptions are:
(* ter em conta que com o adjetivo "far" são possíveis as formas "farther than" e "the farthest").
Apart from comparative and superlative structures, it is also common to compare items using the grammatical structure: as + adjective + as. This is an easy structure for lusophones to remember as it translates almost directly as "tão + adjective + como".
- Affirmative sentence:
Rebecca is as tall as her sister
A Rebecca é tão alta como a irmã
- Negative sentence:
Kourtney Kardashian is not as famous as Kim Kardashian.
A Kourtney Kardashian não é tão famosa como a Kim Kardashian
(For negative sentences, it is also possible to use the structure “not so + adjective + as”.)
If you want to emphasise the difference between different items, it’s possible to use certain words before the comparative structure. The most common words for emphasis are “much”, “far”, or colloquially “way”.
- Game of Thrones is much more popular than The Crown
A Guerra dos Tronos é muito mais popular do que The Crown
- Tokyo is far bigger than Frankfurt
Tóquio é muitíssimo maior do que Frankfurt
(It is not possible to use words like “very” or “really” before a comparative structure.)
What common mistakes do Portuguese students make with this grammar point?
If translating directly from Portuguese, some students automatically think of the word “more” when they want to make comparisons, even if they are referring to a monosyllabic adjective:
- A Torre Eiffel é mais alta do que o Cristo Redentor.
→ The Eiffel Tower is more tall than Christ the Redeemer. ✗
→ The Eiffel Tower is taller than Christ the Redeemer. ✓
Another mistranslation from Portuguese to English often occurs when students are using a superlative structure. In English, this structure is usually followed by the preposition “in”:
- O edifício mais alto do mundo.
→ The tallest building of the world. ✗
→ The tallest building in the world. ✓
Some students wrongly use the word “more” when they want to express ideas of quantity or emphasis. This is not correct as the word “more” is only used when comparing at least two nouns:
- O carro custa muito dinheiro.
→ The car costs more money. ✗
→ The car costs a lot of money. ✓
- •O carro é muito caro.
→ The car is more expensive. ✗
→ The car is very expensive. ✓
Students sometimes use incorrect words in the “as + adjective + as” structure:
- Barcelona é tão bonita como Paris.
→ Barcelona is so beautiful than Paris. ✗
→ Barcelona is as beautiful as Paris. ✓
Are there any famous examples?
- The Best (song by Tina Turner) - In this classic 1980s song, Tina sings to her lover, telling him “You’re simply the best, better than all the rest”.
- Stronger (song by Kelly Clarkson) - This hit from 2011 is a song about overcoming obstacles in life. Kelly tells us “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.
- As good as it gets (movie starring Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt) - This 1997 movie tells the story of a lonely writer who becomes friends with his neighbour and a local waitress, discovering a new life which is “as good as it gets”. In Spanish, the movie was titled “Mejor … Imposible”.
- Stranger Things (Netflix series) - This series began in 2016 and tells the story of a small town filled with suspicious people, a mysterious scientific laboratory and some even stranger things.
Each of the sentences below contains one mistake. Find the mistake and correct it.
- Shanghai is the bigger city in Asia.
- James is worse that Jessica at basketball.
- The Queen of England is oldder than Barack Obama.
- The climate in Siberia is extremer than the climate in France.
- Summer in Spain is very hotter than in Scotland.
- Jimi Hendrix was the best guitar player of the world.
- Greece is not as cold than Norway.
Answers (a long way) below
- Shanghai is the biggest city in Asia.
- James is worse than Jessica at basketball.
- The Queen of England is older than Barack Obama.
- The climate in Siberia is more extreme than the climate in France.
- Summer in Spain is much/far/way hotter than in Scotland.
- Jimi Hendrix was the best guitar player in the world.
- Greece is not as cold as Norway.
Click here if you fancy some more online exercises for comparatives and superlatives.