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The comparison (from Latin comparatio , from Latin comparare "to compare"; Latin comparatio , ancient also contentio ), also gradation or sometimes graduation , German enhancement , is a division in linguistics of the formation of adjectives and (some) adverbs .


The following five levels of increase are distinguished:

  • Positive (from Latin ponere "to set")
  • Comparative (from Latin comparare "to compare")
  • Superlative (from Latin super "over" and ferre "carry")
  • Elative (from Latin elatum "highlighted" or efferre "highlighted")
  • Excessive (v. Latin excedere "to go out / exceed")

Comparison in German

There are three forms of increase in German:

Latin-German name Latin name German name example
positive [gradus] positivus, ancient: gradus absolutus Elementary level proud
(outdated Comparative)
[gradus] comparativus antique: comparatio ancient: collatio secunda Multi-stage Higher level Comparison level Increase level prouder
superlative [gradus] superlativus antique: superlatio ancient: collatio tertia Master level Maximum level Summit level proudest
( proudest- )

In German, adjectives that are increased regularly end in the comparative with -er and are combined with as to the object of comparison. In some dialects , like is used as a connecting word (in some Southwest German dialects, such as Swabian and Alemannic : better like ). In dialectal terms, the illegal combination is occasionally used as like ( Bavarian : better like or, a little less often, better than like ).

The superlative ends with -st or -est after -s, -ß, -sch, -d, -t, -tz, -x or -z and is connected with am when the adjectives are used adverbially :

  • big bigger Biggest)
  • pretty prettier prettiest)
  • wild - wilder - (most) wildest (n)

Irregular increases have adjectives that deviate from the above rule (different stem or change in a consonant, suppletion ). Irregular are:

  • good, better, the best)
  • much - more - (most) most (n)
  • like - dear - dearest
  • high, higher, the highest)
  • little - less / less - (the) least (n) / (the) least (n) (both forms possible)
  • near - closer - (closest)

The superlative is the highest percentage of adjectives . The greatest possible participation in a property is expressed . Many languages, for example German , English or Latin , use the superlative within the comparison to describe a degree of difference between at least three comparison values, with the superlative marking the value with the highest degree.


  • "Anton runs the fastest of all the students ."
  • "The highest mountain in Asia is Mount Everest."

However, if no comparative values ​​are mentioned in the sentence, then the superlative is called absolute superlative - in contrast to the relative superlative - or also called elative . Further gradual gradations allow lexical word formation means and intensity particles .


  • "Anton runs the fastest of all."
  • "By far the highest mountain is Mount Everest."

The comparison of

  • Absolute adjectives , as they cannot be compared. Examples: triangular, written, mortal, unique, dead, whole, unique . However, they can sometimes be increased in joking or rhetorical use, or when they are used in a relative or figurative sense: "All animals are the same, but some animals are more equal than others." ( George Orwell , Animal Farm ), see Hyperlative
  • compound adjectives when the nominal first term itself expresses a reinforcement. Examples: stupid, ice cold, strong as a bear ,
  • immutable adjectives. These are neither inflected nor increased, for example borrowed color words such as purple, pink (on the other hand, inflected color words such as red, green, blue are also increased). Colloquially, however, they are also inflected like a purple dress, a pink dress . In the case of an elliptical formulation, the adjective must be inflected: “She is wearing a purple.” And not “She is wearing a purple.” For “She is wearing a purple dress.”.

For example:

  • front - front
  • back - back (adverb and preposition: back)
  • inner - innermost (adverb: inside)
  • outer - outermost (adverb: outer)

Participles used as adjectives

Adjectival participles are usually not increased. It says: “the screaming children”, but not “the screaming children” and not “the screaming children”, but rather “the louder screaming” or the “loudest screaming” children. If, on the other hand, “screaming” is used in a figurative sense, it is no longer perceived as an adjective participle but as a (new) adjective; then you can definitely say that the lounge was kept in the most screaming colors.

Increase in compound adjectives

With compound adjectives such as high quality , it is only possible to increase the first or the second part, but not both. Whether the front or back word needs to be increased is usually determined when one realizes the increase in which property is meant. The fastest possible move is faster than any other, but not more possible . Occasionally the first or second part can be increased, sometimes there is a difference in meaning. In the case of a literal meaning , the front word is usually increased, in the case of a transferred meaning the back word is more likely. The rules of spelling together and separately must be observed.

  • "This shirt is checked smaller (has smaller checks) than the old one." (Literal meaning), but:
  • "You are even more petty (fussy) than my father!" (Figurative meaning)
  • the closest stop ("near" in its actual local meaning), but:
  • the more obvious (easier to find out) solution (figurative meaning)

Superlative adverbs

A superlative adverb is a special adverb that has a superlative form and meaning.


  • best, at the latest, at least, at most


The desuperlative (v. Latin de "von") is a word derived from a superlative.


  • optimal (from lat. optimus "the best"), maximal (from lat. maximus "the greatest")


Deviating from standard German , absolute adjectives are often increased in the spoken language , although their positive form already has a superlative meaning. Such a word form, which seems to increase an absolute adjective, is a mistake and can be referred to as 'hyperlative'. However, this is not an established technical term in linguistics .

Examples: the most optimal (really optimal ) variant , the only (really only ) solution

Sometimes a compound adjective is accentuated incorrectly by taking the accent forms of both components, e.g. B. the best-looking (correct: best-looking ) actor , the best possible (correct: best possible ) solution , the lowest (correct: lowest ) point .

Occasionally an actually absolute adjective is increased anyway, for example

  • for stylistic reasons: good night angel. The only, only girl - and I know many of them - ( Goethe in a letter to Auguste from September 14-19 , 1775)
  • or for rhetorical reasons, in order to specifically point out that the property cannot be relativized in principle:
All animals are the same, but some animals are more alike than others. (George Orwell - Animal Farm )

The increase in absolute adjectives as a stylistic means is one of the elatives : such as to complete satisfaction.

Not comparative use

In addition to being used in comparisons, the comparative form of the adjective can be used in non-comparative sentences. This type of usage is called an absolute comparative - in contrast to the relative comparative .

"My neighbor is an elderly lady."

In this non-comparative use, the adjective is weakened, not reinforced, compared to the positive. An older lady is not as old as an old lady .

The use of the word like can lead to misinterpretations , because in some dialects it is used as a connecting word in comparisons.

“My neighbor is an older lady like my mother.” May mean regional
"My neighbor is an older lady than my mother." Or
"My neighbor is an elderly lady just like my mother."

A similar case to the non-comparative use of the comparative is present if it is used to diminish the opposite term.

"After I felt bad in the meantime, I feel better again (= less bad), but not yet well." The comparative "better" here also means less good than "good".

A better gentleman is a man who is socially superior. With this established term, he is not compared to a "good" gentleman.

A non-comparative type of use can also be found for the superlative. It is called an absolute superlative or also an elative .

Comparison of adverbs

In German, a few adverbs can also be increased, for example: often - more - most often , although for stylistic reasons it is better to use the most frequently for the latter . Adjectives used in adverbs are occasionally increased: "Peter sings more beautifully than Jutta."

Comparison in other languages

In other languages ​​there is a fourth form of intensification, the elative .

One such language is modern Greek :

step (New) Greek German
positive (ευγενικός) ewjenikós "polite"
comparative (ευγενικότερος) ewjenikóteros "More polite"
superlative (ο ευγενικότερος) o ewjenikóteros "Most politely-"
Elative (ευγενικότατος) ewjenikótatos "very polite"

The elative can be reproduced in the translation with:

  • very good
  • extremely good
  • very good)

There are three forms of intensification in Latin :

step Latin German
positive longus "long"
comparative longior "Longer", "quite long"
superlative longissimus "The longest", "very long"

The Exzessiv of Basque (also Elative can be translated "to ..." called), he is therefore an excess or an excess of:

step Basque German
positive handi "big"
comparative handiago "greater"
superlative handle "Greatest"
Excessive handiegi "too large"


  • Helmut Glück (Ed.): Metzler Lexicon Language . Stuttgart 2000.

Web links

Wiktionary: comparison  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Karl Ernst Georges: Comprehensive Latin-German concise dictionary. Hannover 1913 (reprint: Darmstadt 1998), Volume 1, Col. 1600–1602, keyword contentio .
  2. purple
  3. ^ Hanneke van Hoof: Left Dislocation and Split Topics in Brabant Dutch . In: Materials on Left Dislocation , Linguistik Aktuell - Linguistics Today 14, edited by Elena Anagnostopoulou, Henk van Riemsdijk and Frans Zwarts, John Benjamin Publishing Company, 1997, p. 302.
  4. As of June 2014: no evidence in BDSL , BLLDB (see ); no references in Dietrich Homberger: Subject Dictionary for Linguistics (2000); Metzler Lexicon Language , ed. by Helmut Glück , 3rd edition (2005); Lexicon of Linguistics , ed. by Hadumod Bußmann , 4th ed. (2008); Handbooks for Linguistics and Communication Studies , Vol. 31: Rhetoric and Stylistics , ed. by Ulla Fix (2009).
  5. Hanna Fischer-Lamberg (ed.): The young Goethe. Volume 1 , Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 1999, p. 259
  6. Helbig, Buscha: Guide to German grammar , Langenscheidt Schulbuchverlag.