French Comparatives and Superlatives: Let’s Get Comparing!
Comparatives and Superlatives in French have similarities with those in English, but they also differ from each other in ways which are important to learn and understand to better your French. Shall we get to it?
Let’s start with the basics: what are the French Comparatives and Superlatives anyway?
Superlatives vs Comparatives
To put it simply:
Superlative: My Subway sandwich is the longest. (Between me and the rest of the sandwiches present, in a generic sense).
Comparative: My Subway sandwich is longer than yours. (Between you and me)
Usually, comparatives in English include the word ‘than’ since there’s a comparison.
Just as English forms its superlatives and comparatives with the help of adverbs and adjectives, French does the same. Let’s take a closer look at each of these components individually.
What are adverbs? Words that describe a verb.
Now, superlative and comparative adverbs are always used to compare two actions. The comparison can either be superior which is when the adverb implies something being more than the other, or inferior which is when the adverb is implying that something is observed as less than the other or equal to it. Have a look at the table below if you need a reminder on what they look like in English.
|1 or 2 syllables + ‘-est’ suffix||More than 2 syllables/”most” or “least”|
|Examples||Quickest, fastest||Most frequently, least high|
|1 or 2 syllables + ‘-er’ suffix||More than 2 syllables/ “more”or “less”|
|Examples||Slower, earlier||Less gentle, more quickly|
Now that we’ve covered comparative and superlative adverbs in English, let’s take a look at how they work in French.
In French, the use of superlative adverbs means that there is no need to have the article agree in gender and number with the subject. In other words, only the article ‘ le ‘ is used. Let’s have a quick look at an example:
Javier court le plus vite (Javier runs the fastest).
‘ Le plus ’ is the direct translation of “the most” -> Karen marche le plus doucement (Karen walks the most slowly) and ‘ Le moins ’ is the direct translation of “the least” -> Elle a bu le moins (She drank the least)
In some cases, comparative adverbs are used with ‘ plus…que ’ which is the literal translation of “more…than”.
Tu parles plus couramment que moi (You speak more fluently than me)
In other cases, you’ll also come across ‘ moins…que ’ which is the literal translation “less…than”.
Nous courons plus lentement qu’avant (We are running slower than before)
Here, que becomes qu’ due to avant beginning with a vowel.
The rest of the time, aussi…que is used, and this more or less equates to “as…as”.
Il peut chanter aussi bien que Greg (He can sing as well as Greg)
Of course it can’t be a French grammar lesson without irregulars! Below are some of the irregular comparative and superlative adverbs which need to be memorised.
Comparative: moins (less)
Superlative: le moins (the least)
Beaucoup (a lot)
Comparative: plus (more)
Superlative: le plus (the most)
The video below is a great way to learn more about French Comparatives
What are adjectives? Words that describe a noun or a noun phrase.
Let’s remind ourselves what superlative and comparative adjectives look like in English.
|1 or 2 Syllables + ‘-est’ suffix||More than 2 syllables/”most” or “least”|
|Examples||Cleanest, Meanest, Smoothest||Most dangerous, Least feminine, Most amazing|
|1 or 2 Syllables + ‘-er’ suffix||More than 2 syllables/”more” or “less”|
|Examples||Cleaner, Meaner, Smoother||More dangerous, More feminine, Less amazing|
With that in mind, let’s see how they’re used in French.
In sentences including superlative adjectives, the word ‘ plus ’ is used like “most” is in English. But since French grammar is based on gender and quantity, the articles prior to plus as well as the adjective have to agree with the subject.
Masculine singular form – le plus
Le plus joli jardin (the prettiest garden)
Le restaurant le plus grand (the biggest restaurant)
Feminine singular form – la plus
La rue la plus propre (the cleanest street)
Plural form (M+F) – les plus
Les clés les plus brillantes (the shiniest keys)
The word moins is used like “least” is in English. Again, it varies with agreement.
Masculine singular form – le moins
Le sac le moins cher (the least expensive bag)
Feminine singular form – la moins
La montagne la moins effrayante (the least scary mountain)
Plural form (M+F) – les moins
Les bagues les moins chères (the least expensive rings)
Quick recap: When it comes to determining gender and quantity; le (for masculine), la (for feminine) and les (plural) is used for superlative adjectives. The adjective can also end differently depending on the number and gender of the subject.
When a person or a thing is being compared to the subject of the sentence then ‘que’ is used.
Il est plus mignon que moi (He is cuter than me)
Ils sont plus rapides que nous (They are faster than us)
Le chien de Vincent est plus intelligent que lui. (Vincent’s dog is smarter than him)
‘Que’ can be paired with ‘aussi’ to talk about the sentence’s subject being similar to something else. In other words; (subject) is as (adjective) as (another thing).
La ville n’est pas aussi belle que la campagne (The city isn’t as beautiful as the countryside)
The word plus is used for “more”.
Cette cerise est plus sucrée (This cherry is sweeter)
La danseuse est plus gracieuse (The dancer is more graceful)
The word moins is used for “less”.
Le sac est moins bleu (The bag is less blue)
Cette chaise est moins boisée (That chair is less woody)
Unfortunately, French is full of exceptions and the irregular superlative and comparative adjectives below will need to be memorised since they don’t follow the same pattern as the others.
Comparative: meilleur (better)
Superlative: meilleur (best)
Comparative: moindre / plus petit (smaller)
Superlative: le moindre / le plus petit (the smallest)
And with that, our chapter on the French Comparatives and Superlatives has come to an end!
See you next lesson – and in the meantime, don’t forget to practice! If you need any help don’t hesitate to get into contact with one of our online French Tutors.