French The Comparative

Overview

French and English enjoy common ways of expressing degrees of comparison namely , equality or inequality. However, French does not have an equivalent to the English ending forms -er and -est (e.g. harder, hardest) to express superiority or greatest superiority.

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The comparative is used when you want to compare two or more things to each other. The three degrees of comparison are superiority, inferiority, and equality. Here are examples in English of each kind:

Superiority:     I am smarter than my brother.

I have more cows than chickens on the farm.                  

Inferiority:       She is less excited than her teacher for the first day of school.

                        She has less nickels than pennies in her wallet.

Equality:         I am as nervous for the first date as him.

                        We have as many days off as the other colleges.

*Notice how the first sentence in each example is comparing an adjective (smarter, less excited than, as nervous…as). The second example in each sentence is comparing a noun (more cows than, less nickels than, as many days off as). This distinction is important in French to understand.

Le Comparatif:

Comparing a quality: Adjectives and Adverbs

*think adjectives in English that end in -er*

FrenchEnglishExampleTranslation
plus…quemore…thanJe m’endors plus vite que ma sœur.I fall asleep faster (more fast than) my sister.
moins…queless…thanElle est moins grande que son petit-ami.She is shorter (less tall than) her boyfriend.
aussi…queas….asL’enfant pleure aussi fort que l’adulte.The child cries as loud as the adult.

*Remember do not forget about agreeing the adjective with your subject even when doing le comparatif. Think about what needs to be added to the adjective if the subject is feminine and/or plural. To review adjective agreement, see A1.1 Module 10.

Comparing a quantity: Nouns

FrenchEnglishExampleTranslation
plus de…quemore…thanLes avocats gagnent plus d’argent que les profs.Lawyers earn more money than teachers.
moins de…queless…thanIl y a moins de poissons dans les lacs que dans les océans.There are less fish in the lakes than in the oceans.
autant de…queas many….asJ’ai autant d’examens cette année que l’année dernière.I have as many exams this year as last year.

Notice the differences in the charts. When comparing a quantity of nouns, you add de to each comparative expression. Additionally, aussi changes to autant. This is a common mistake made among beginners.

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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:
Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.
Specific Capabilities at this Level
Writing:
I can write short, simple notes and messages relating to matters in areas of immediate needs. I can write a very simple personal letter, for example thanking someone for something.
Spoken Production:
I can use a series of phrases and sentences to describe in simple terms my family and other people, living conditions, my educational background and my present or most recent job.
Spoken Interaction:
I can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar topics and activities. I can handle very short social exchanges, even though I can’t usually understand enough to keep the conversation going myself.
Reading:
I can read very short, simple texts. I can find specific, predictable information in simple everyday material such as advertisements, prospectuses, menus and timetables and I can understand short simple personal letters.
Listening:
I can understand phrases and the highest frequency vocabulary related to areas of most immediate personal relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local area, employment). I can catch the main point in short, clear, simple messages and announcements.