Despite the old saying that "Las comparaciones son odiosas" (Comparisons are odious), the truth is that they are often necessary. Whether you need to decide on a vacation destination, select a present for a loved one, or weigh the pros and cons of any situation, comparisons will be a part of your decision-making process. That said, let's learn some useful language for that purpose.
Unlike English, Spanish does not modify adjectives with the addition of suffixes (e.g. the English -er and -est) for comparative purposes. Instead, adjectives are accompanied by comparative structures to indicate equality, inequality, or difference in degree between one or more people, ideas, or things. Since there is plenty to learn on this topic, this lesson will deal with inequality, while part two will cover comparisons of equality and superlatives.
For comparisons of inequality, the word that specifies what the comparison is about will be preceded by más (more) or menos (less). One might compare qualities (adjectives), ways of doing something (adverbs), or even nouns as in the sentence: La canasta roja tiene más manzanas que la verde (The red basket has more apples than the green one). Let's take a look at some common comparative structures involving adjectives, adverbs, and nouns, and some examples of each:
La vida a esta altitud se hace más difícil que en el frondoso pinsapar.
Life at this altitude becomes more difficult than in the dense Spanish fir forest.
Caption 64, Tecnópolis - Sierra de las nievesPlay Caption
Este libro es menos interesante que el otro.
This book is less interesting than the other one.
Caption 72, Karla e Isabel - ComparativosPlay Caption
As you may have inferred from these examples, the comparative particle que is the equivalent of than in English. In addition, the video in our second example above introduces several comparative structures with examples and is thus worth viewing in conjunction with this lesson.
Les inyectaba hormonas para que crecieran más rápido.
She would inject them with hormones so that they would grow faster.
Caption 45, Kikirikí - AnimalesPlay Caption
Note that, in this case, the comparative particle que is not present since the second term of the comparison is not mentioned. In addition, remember that, although the adverb rápidamente does exist, we often use rápido as an adverb as well as an adjective in the same way as the English word fast, depending upon whether it modifies a noun or a verb in a sentence.
As we saw in the introduction, this structure can also be used with nouns. In this case, it is worth mentioning that while, according to traditional English usage rules, "fewer" should be used for countable objects while "less" should be employed with singular mass nouns (i.e. salt), this distinction does not exist in Spanish. That said, menos will be used for both countable and uncountable nouns in Spanish.
Ten en cuenta que los productos en tamaño familiar,
Take into account that family-sized products,
sean de lo que sean,
whatever they are,
generan menos residuos por unidad de producto.
generate less waste per product unit.
Captions 51-53, 3R - Campaña de reciclajePlay Caption
Since the Spanish verb tener años (literally "to have years") is used to express the idea of someone being a certain age, the expression Tengo más años que mi hermana (literally "I have more years than my sister") is equivalent to saying "I am older than my sister." The following example is similar:
Yo tengo un año menos que tú.
I am a year younger than you.
Caption 12, Clara y Cristina - SaludarPlay Caption
Although the position of the noun in these examples is different, they demonstrate the additional point that prepositional object pronouns like mí and ti cannot be used in comparatives as the second object of comparison (immediately after que). For example, while in English, one can say either "My sister is younger than I am" or "My sister is younger than me," Mi hermana es más joven que mí is unacceptable in Spanish, while Mi hermana es más joven que yo is the correct way to express this.
Sometimes, the difference between the objects, people, or ideas being compared is so big or so small that formulas that include intensifiers such as mucho/muchísimo/tanto + más/menos or mitigators like un poco/poquito + más/menos can help to express this.
Y eso también lo habéis comprado más barato de lo normal.
And that also you have bought cheaper than what's normal.
Pero muchísimo más barato, ochenta por ciento más barato, una cosa así.
But way cheaper, eighty percent cheaper, something like that.
Captions 14-15, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricosPlay Caption
No es tanto más grande que yo.
She's not that much older than me.
Caption 31, Muñeca Brava - 7 El poemaPlay Caption
De Los Cabos sí queda un poquito más lejitos,
From Los Cabos, it's a little bit further,
un poquito más de dos horas.
a little bit over two hours.
Captions 73-74, Alan x el mundo - Mi playa favorita de México!Play Caption
The parallel comparative structure, cuanto más + adjective/adverb, más/menos, is also useful in Spanish. The common English expression, "The sooner, the better," for example, translates as: Cuanto antes, mejor.
Cuanto más sucia, menos le[s] pagáis. -Claro.
The dirtier it is, the less you pay them. -Of course.
Caption 81, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesaPlay Caption
A few adjectives and adverbs have irregular comparative forms and don't fall into the typical patterns using más/menos + adjective/adverb + que:
Adjective: buen/a (good) Comparative: mejor (better)
Adjective: mal/a (bad) Comparative: peor (worse)
Es una buena cantante (She's a good singer).
Es mejor cantante que Mariana (She is a better singer than Mariana).
Es un mal alumno (He is a bad student).
Es peor alumno que Juan (He is a worse student than Juan).
Interestingly, when the adjectives mejor/peor describe how good or bad one is at something, their forms are irregular. However, when referring to good and evil, their regular comparative forms come into play:
Es más malo que el diablo.
He is more evil than the devil.
The following adverbs, however, have only an irregular comparative:
Adverb: bien (well) Comparative: mejor (better)
Adverb: mal (badly) Comparative: peor (worse)
María canta mejor que su hermana.
María sings better than her sister.
Let's conclude with some additional examples of regular and irregular comparatives from our Yabla video library:
Tres aspirinas. -Bueno, tomá algo más fuerte que te haga mejor.
Three aspirins. -Well, take something stronger that makes you better.
Caption 61, Muñeca Brava - 43 La reuniónPlay Caption
Mal. Peor que la semana pasada.
Bad. Worse than last week.
Caption 7, El Aula Azul - La Doctora Consejos: Subjuntivo y condicionalPlay Caption
That's all for this first part of our lesson on comparatives. We hope it has been clear, and don't forget to send us your questions, comments, and suggestions. ¡Hasta la próxima!