The Agreeable Russian Adjectives!

Fleurette   The Incomparable Russian Comparative   Fleurette

As in all languages, most Russian qualitative adjectives may undergo comparison. Only qualitative adjectives may be compared because only this type of adjective refers to qualities of objects which may vary in degrees. Qualitiative adjectives also generate nouns (fairness, adverbs (fairly), and may be used in predicate position (Fred is fair). Only this type of noun is subject to comparison. Relative adjectives, like budgetary, rural, dental, which share none of these relations, are not subject to comparison.

There is also a semantic test of comparability. In order to be comparable, a qualitative adjective must refer to a variable, not absolulte, quality. Infinite in the phrase infinite wisdom, even though it bespeaks a quality, it can't be compared since it refers to an absolute, not a variable, quality. Of course, we create language, so we can do what we like with it and we do say things like more infinite and more absolute. However, these are not true comparatives; we mean "more nearly infinite", "more nearly absolute", something quite different from the comparative. The true comparative means "having more of the quality named by the adjective".

Most languages with the grammatical category of comparison have three degrees of comparison: positive, comparative, and superlative—of this I'm comparatively positive. The positive degree in English is expressed by the preposition as: an aardvark as smart as mine. The comparative degree is illustrated by an aardvark smarter than mine, and the superlative degree by the smartest aardvark in town. Russian has all three degrees.

Fleurette   Accentuating the Positive (Degree)   Fleurette

The Russian positive degree represents two objects as equal in the given quality: my aardvark is as smart as yours. It is expressed by the short form of the adjective and the conjunctions так . . . как or такой . . . какой and the long form. The following examples are illustrative.

У него сестра так (же) крепка, как и моя. 'His sister is as strong as mine.'
У него сестра такая же крепкая, как и моя. 'His sister is as strong as mine'

Just remember that you must use такой with the long form adjective and так with the short form.

Fleurette   The Comparative Degree   Fleurette

The Regular Long Comparative Form

The comparative degree also differs depending upon whether you use the long or short form of the adjective. The long comparative is simple: you just add более 'more' before the long-form adjective:

Саша более ленивый рабочий чем я. 'Sasha is a lazier worker than me.'
Саша более ленивый чем брат. 'Sasha is lazier than his brother'.

The Regular Short Comparative Form

The regular short form of the comparative degree is written -ee but pronounced -ей; in fact, it is written -ей on one word: скорей 'quicker'. This ending replaces the feminine short-form ending and therefore regular comparatives have the same accent placement as the feminine short-form adjective.

Regular Short Form Comparative Adjectives
Base Form Masculine
Short Form
Short Form
умный умён умна умнее
быстрый быстрбыстра быстрее
медленный медлен медленна медленнее
новый нов нова новее
скучный скучен скучна скучнее

The Irregular Short Comparative Form

The so-called 'irregular' adjectives are less predictable but still are characterized by general regularity. In general, they are recognized by the ending -e preceded by palatalization. They tend to be short, commonplace adjectives which end on those consonants subject to palatalization. The suffix -ок is dropped but -кий is not. The accent on irregular comparative adjectives is always on the second syllable from the end. The following table lists all the irregular adjectives in Russian with their antonyms, regular or irregular.

Irregular Short Form Comparative Adjectives
Adjective Gloss Adverb Feminine Comparative
близкий near близко близка ближе
далёкий far, distant далеко далека дальше
большой big, large велико велика больше, более
маленький little, small мало мала меньше, менее
высокий high, tall высоко высока выше
низкий low, short низко низка ниже
глубокий deep глубоко глубока глубже
мелкий shallow мелко мелка мельче
громкий loud громко громка громче
тихий quiet тихо тиха тише
дорогой expensive дорого дорога дороже
дешёвый cheap дёшево дешева дешевле
короткий short (space) коротко коротка короче
краткий short (time) кратко кратка кратче
длинный long (space) длинно длинна длинее
долгий long (time) долго долга дольше, долее
крепкий strong крепко крепка крепче
слабый weak слабо слаба слабее
лёгкий light, easy легко легка легче
тяжёлый heavy тяжело тяжела тяжелее
трудный difficult трудно трудна труднее
молодой young молодо молода моложе
старый old старо стара старше, старее
мягкий soft мягко мягка мягче
твёрдый hard твёрдо тверда тверже
жёсткий hard (seat) жёстко жестка жёсче
простой simple просто проста проще
сложный complex сложно сложна сложнее
редкий rare, thin (soup) редко редка реже
частый frequent часто часта чаще
густой thick (soup) густо густа гуще
толстый fat, thick толсто толста толще
тонкий thin, slim тонко тонка тоньше
хороший good хорошо хороша лучше
плохой bad плохо плоха хуже
широкий wide широко широка шире
узкий narrow узко узка уже
поздний late поздно поздна позже
ранний early рано . . . раньше
богатый rich богато богата богаче
бедный poor бедно бедна беднее
чистый clean, pure чисто чиста чище
грязный dirty, impure грязно грязна грязнее

Fleurette   The Third Degree: Superlative   Fleurette

Besides the addition of the word самый in the formation of the superlative degree, e. g. самый чистый, самая красивая, самое длинное, you can also add the suffixes -ейший and -айший to all qualitative adjectives in order to derive the superlative. The suffix -айший is added to adjective stems ending on the three velars (к г х). The velars are then palatalized (к > ч, г > ж, х > ш). The suffix -ейший is added to all other qualitative adjectives.

Base Form Gloss Superlative Gloss
тихий quiet тишайший quietest
высокий tall, high высочайший tallest, highest
редкии rare, weak редчайший rarest, weakest

The suffixes -ок, -к are deleted in only two forms:

Base Form Gloss Superlative Gloss
близкий near, close ближайший nearest, closest
узкий narrow, tight ужайший narrowest, tightest

Adjectives whose stems end on all other consonants receive the suffix -ейший.

Base Form Superlative

The accent falls on the same syllable as it falls on in the feminine short form.

Fleurette   Comparative Constructions in Russian   Fleurette

How to Say 'Than' in Russian

There are two ways to express the the comparative function, i. e. 'than', in Russian. If two nouns are being compared, the second one may simply be placed in the genitive case:

Маша выше Ирины 'Masha is taller than Irene'
Иван умнее Бориса 'Ivan is smarter than Boris'

The preposition чем plus the nominative may be used in all comparative constructions:

Маша выше, чем Ирина 'Masha is higher than Irene'
Иван бегает быстрее, чем Борис 'Ivan runs faster than Boris'
Озеро шире, чем длинее 'The lake is wider than long'

Other Comparative Expressions

Here is a catalog of other expressions used with comparative adjectives in Russian.
How to Say 'Even More'

In Russian the word for 'even' is ещё:

Маша ешё выше чем Ирина
'Masha is even taller than Irene'
How to Say 'the . . . the'

To say things like 'the more the merrier' in Russian you use the conjunction set чем . . . тем

Чем скорей тем лучше 'The sooner the better'
Чем больше тем лучше The more the better'

How to Say 'as possible'

To say 'as possible', Russians use the phrase как можно before the comparative form of the adjective, as the following examples illustrate:

как можно раньше 'as soon as possible'
как можно лучше 'as good as possible'

Comparative Emphasis

To emphasize the extent to which A is superior to B in a comparative construction, insert the word гораздо or, in colloquial Russian, куда before the comparative adjective.

Маша гораздо лучше говорит по-английски чем Ваня.
'Masha speaks English much better than Vanya.'
Валя куда умнее Володи. 'Valya is lots smarter than Volodya'

Specifying Comparison

To compare two objects or actions by specific amounts, на plus the accusative is used to denote the dimensions by which A is superior to B.

Алла тяжелее Орфы на 2 килограмма.
'Alla is heavier than Orpha by 2 kilos'
Валя на много умнее Володи.
'Valya is smarter than Volodya by a lot (long shot).'

Fleurette   Now You Play with Comparison   Fleurette

Here are some exercises to play with to see if you are picking up the irregular comparative adjectives and adjective constructions. Beware: a couple of them require two words rather than one.

Learner's Keyboard Standard  keyboard Standard KeyboardLearner's keyboard

Learner's letter-for-letter and standard Russian keyboard layouts are available here if you need them. They will disappear when you scroll down this page. Refresh them by clicking the browser icon that comes up with them. Close the window in the usual way by clicking the "X" in the upper righthand corner. Be sure that your popup blocker is off.

Y    Adjective Comparison Exercises    Y
Fill in the Blank Push Correct?

Мои блины твоих.
My blintzes are thicker than yours.

Река всегда после дождей.
The river is always deeper after the rains.
Путь по этой дороге.
The way is shorter by this road.
Чем дальше .
The farther the better.
Привези деньги скорей.
Bring money as soon as possible.
Валя куда своего брата.
Valya is lots stronger than her brother.
Ее зубы всегда моих.
Her teeth are always cleaner than mine.
Володя гораздо своей матери.
Volodya is much slimmer than his mom.
Американский хлеб чем русский.
American bread is softer than Russian.
Ира писала чем другие.
Ira wrote more simply than the others.
Володина голова чуть чем моя.
Volodya's head is a bit harder than mine.

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© 1996 Robert Beard