The greater than comparative
In Chinese there are two ways to form a greater than comparative.
The first, quite simply, is by inserting adjectives with an opposite meaning in a phrase. In this case, the adjectives have an intrinsic comparative value. When using this form of comparative, the intensifier 很 (hěn) – or any other intensifier – should not precede the adjective.
This type of comparative doesn’t have a specific name but is commonly identified by the expression: “simple propositions containing contrasting adjectives”. Here are some examples:
Wǒmen bān, nánxuésheng duō, nǚxuésheng shǎo.
In my class there are more male students than female.
Wǒ mèimei de fángjiān dà, wǒ de fángjiān xiǎo.
My little sister’s room is bigger than mine.
Wǒ de péngyou gāo, wǒ bàba ǎi.
My friend is taller than my dad.
The second way to form the greater than comparative is by applying the following rule:
1st comparative term + 比 (bǐ) + 2nd comparative term + Adjective / State
It is important to keep in mind that even with this rule, intensifiers are not used. Let’s look at some examples:
Wǒ bǐ dìdi gāo.
I am taller than my brother.
Zhōngguó bǐ Rìběn dà.
China is larger than Japan.
Wǒ de shēntǐ bǐ yǐqián hǎole.
My health has improved compared to before.
Chīfàn bǐ zuòfàn róngyì.
Eating is easier than cooking.
Xiězì bǐ rènzì nán.
Writing characters is harder than recognizing them.
Tā bǐ wǒ ài chī Zhōngguó fàn.
He loves eating Chinese food more than I do.
Specific quantities within the greater than comparative
When comparing two nouns, it is possible to specify the difference between one and the other. For example:
Wǒ bàba bǐ wǒ māma dà sān suì.
My dad is older than my mom by three years.
As you can see by the example, the quantity appears right after the predicative adjective. Here are other examples:
Zhège bīnguǎn bǐ nàge bīnguǎn guì shí Ōuyuán.
This hotel is more expensive than the one for ten Euros.
Zhège níngméng bǐ nàge níngméng dà yī bèi.
This lemon is double the size of that one.
Nà tiáo lù bǐ zhè tiáo lù cháng liǎng gōnglǐ.
That street is two kilometers longer than this one.
Predicative adjectives 早，晚，多 e 少 within a greater than comparative
Now let’s look in detail at how the predicative adjectives 早 (zǎo) “soon”, 晚 (wǎn) “later”, 多(duō) “more” and 少(shǎo) “less” work within a greater than comparative. These adjectives are always followed by an action verb. Here are some examples:
Zuótiān tā bǐ wǒ zǎo láile yī gè xiǎoshí.
Yesterday she arrived an hour before me.
Jīntiān wǒ bǐ lạ̌obǎn wǎn zǒule liǎng gè xiǎoshí.
Today I left two hours later than at the start.
Wǒ de péngyou jīnnián bǐ qùnián duō zhèngle yī̠qiān Ōuyuán.
This year my friend earned a thousand Euros more than last year.
Wǒ zuótiān kàn de shū bǐ jīntiān kàn de shū shǎo liǎngbǎi yè.
The book I read today has two hundred pages less than the one I read yesterday.
Intensifiers in the greater than comparative
To express the sense of “even more”, or “much more” within a greater than comparative, there are specific intensifiers that assume fixed positions inside the phrase. Among the most common are 更 (gèng); 还 (hái) and 还要(háiyào).
These three intensifiers are interchangeable and have a meaning of “even more” or “more”. These are placed immediately before the adjective or verb. Since they are interchangeable, when the second term is not introduced by 比, you can exclusively use 更. Let’s look at some examples:
Wǒ bàba hěn gāo, bǐ māma gèng gāo.
My dad is tall, even taller than my mom.
Wǒ māma gāo, bàba gèng gāo.
My mom is tall, but my dad is even taller.
In the last example you can only use 更 because there’s no 比.
得多(dé duō); 多了(duō le) and 得很(dehěn) are also interchangeable, are placed after the predicative adjective or verb and have a meaning of “even more”. Here are some examples:
Tā bǐ wǒ gāo dehěn.
He is much taller than I am.
Wǒ māma bǐ bàba shòu de duō.
My mom is much skinnier than my dad.
To finish this discussion of greater than comparatives, it would be good to introduce two small constructs. They are 增加 (zēngjiā) “to increase / grow” and 降低 (jiàngdī) “to lower / diminish”.
Zhège yuè de gōngzī bǐ shànggeyuè de zēngjiā le.
This month’s salary has increased compared to last month.
Jīnnián de rùxué biāozhǔn bǐ qùnián jiàngdī le.
This year’s admissions requests are lower than last year.
Equal to comparatives
To indicate two nouns that are similar or equal you should use this formula:
1st comparative term + 和 (hé) / 跟 (gēn) + 2nd comparative term + 一样 (yīyàng)
Here are a few examples:
Jīntiān de tiānqì hé zuótiān de yīyàng.
Today’s weather is similar to yesterday (the second comparative term is omitted here).
Zhè běn cídiǎn gēn nà běn cídiǎn yīyàng.
This dictionary is identical to that one.
If you want to express that multiple nouns within a phrase or syntagm are identical, all you have to do is use 一样 in its adjectival form, or “to be identical, to be equal to” Let’s look at some examples:
Zhè sān běn shū yīyàng.
These three books are identical.
Nà sān gè cài yīyàng ma?
Are those three plates equal?
When you want to indicate that two comparative phrases have the same characteristic or property just add an element to the formula mentioned above:
1st comparative term + 和 (hé) / 跟 (gēn) + 2nd comparative term + 一样 (yīyàng) + Predicative adjective
Here are some examples:
Bàba hé māma yīyàng gāo.
Dad and mom are the same height.
Wǒ xiǎng mǎi yī běn hé nǐ zuótiān mǎi de yīyàng yǒuqù de shū.
I intend to buy a book that’s just as interesting as the one that you bought yesterday.
To indicate that something or someone resembles something or someone else, use the predicative adjective 像 / 象 (xiàng) “to look like”. For example:
Nǐ xiàng wǒ de péngyou Mǎkè.
You look like my friend Marco.
Zhōngguórén xiàng Rìběnrén ma?
Do the Chinese look like the Japanese?
When you wish to express that multiple nouns within a phrase or syntagm are similar, just use 像 / 象 in its adjectival form, or “to be similar to”. For example:
Tāmen hěn xiàng.
They look like each other.
Duì xīfāngrén lái shuōzhòng guórén dōu hěn xiàng.
To Westerners, the Chinese all look alike.
With equal to comparatives, there are at least three ways of forming them that use the character 像. Here they are:
1st Term + 像 / 象 + 2nd term + 一样 + Quality / State
Zuòdì tiěxiàng zuò gōnggòng qìchē yīyàng fāngbiàn.
Taking the metro is just as comfortable as taking the bus.
Xué Zhōngwén xiàng xué Rìyǔ yīyàng yǒu yìsi.
Learning Chinese is just as interesting as learning Japanese.
1st Term + 像 / 象 + 2nd term + 这么 (zhème) / 那么 (nàme) + Quality / State
Attention: when using this form, the second comparative term must already be known.
Xiě lù zì xiàng xiě róng zì zhème nán ma?
Is writing the character “Lu” is just as difficult as writing the character “Rong”?
Wǒ de lǎoshī xiàng Máo zhǔxí nàme máng.
My professor is as busy as Chairman Mao.
1st Term + 像 / 象 + 2nd term + 这样 (zhèyàng) / 那样 (nàyàng) + Action Verb
Tā xiàng nǐ zhèyàng yóuyǒng.
She swims like you do.
Nǐ xiàng wụ̌dǎojiā nàyàng tiàowǔ.
You dance like a ballerina.
Another way of forming an equal to comparative is the following:
1st Term + 有 (yǒu) + 2nd term + 这么 (zhème) / 那么 (nàme) + Quality / State
This usage implies that the first comparative term has “reached” the level of the second comparative term and perhaps even slightly surpassed it, while the use of 像/象 implies that the two comparative terms are similar.
Wǒ de xuésheng yǒu wǒ zhème xǐhuan tīng Zhōngguó dāngdài yīnyuè.
My students like listing to modern Chinese music as much as I do (if not a little bit more…).
Wǒ tài yào wǒ de gōngzuò yǒu nǐ de nàme qīngsōng.
I wish my workload was as easy as yours.
Another equal to comparative construction is obtained thanks to 似的 (shìde) “similar to / as / as if”. This form, which expresses resemblance, is used together with 像 / 象. The structure is very simple:
1st Term + 像 / 象 + 2nd Term + 似的 (shìde) + [Quality or Action]
Tā de liǎnjiá xiàng píngguǒ shìde hóngsè.
His cheeks are as red as an apple.
Jīntiān tiānqì xiàng xiàtiān shìde rè.
Today it’s as hot as if it were summer.
There is yet another form of the equal to comparative that is worth mentioning. This form, frequently used in the written and more formal language, makes use of the character 般 (bān)and would be equal to the form (像) … 一样:
“…般的 + Name” or “…般地 + Verb or Adjective”
Wǒ hé tā yǒuzhe xiōngdì bān de yǒuyì.
Between him and me there’s a brotherly friendship.
Tā xiǎotōu bān de zǒulù.
Walk as if you were a thief.
Chóngqìng de gūniang dōu yǒuzhe nǚshén bān de piàoliang.
The women of Chongqing are all as beautiful as goddesses.
Less than comparatives
In my experience, I’ve noticed that there is no true less than comparative in Chinese. Furthermore, we can say that to form what we know as the less than comparative, you can make the greater than or equal to form negative. Let’s analyze this by means of a few examples.
Let’s begin by negating the greater than comparative by placing 不 (bù) “no” before 比.
Wǒ de qìchē bù bǐ nǐ de qìchē xiǎo.
My car is not as small as yours.
Wǒ bù bǐ nǐ yǒuqián.
I am less wealthy than you are.
Now let’s try to negate an equal to comparative by using the character 有 (yǒu) “to have”. Be careful, to negate this character you can only use the character 没 (méi).
Wǒ méiyǒu tā gāo.
I’m not as tall as him.
Wǒ méiyǒu tā nàme gāo.
I am less tall than he is.
Literally, this phrase would be “I don’t have his height”.
Tā méiyǒu tā lǎoshī cōngming.
He is not as smart as his professor.
Tā méiyǒu tā lǎoshī nàme cōngming.
He is not as smart as his professor.
Literally, this phrase would be “he doesn’t have the intelligence of his professor”
A similar construction is represented by the negation of 像 / 象 “to be similar to”.
Wǒ bù xiàng tā zhème gāo.
I am not as tall as you are.
Tā bù xiàng lǎoshī nàme cōngming.
He is not as tall as the professor.
如 e 不如
如 (rú) “to be equal to, like” is more often used in the formal written form than the spoken language. The comparison is made when it used metaphorically. Here are some different examples:
Tā rú huā yị̄yàng piàoliang.
She is beautiful like a flower.
Tā rú yuèliang yị̄yàng míngliàng.
She is shining like the Moon.
Tā rú fēijī yị̄yàng kuài.
He is fast as a plane.
Húshuǐ rú jìng.
The lake is a mirror.
如 is often found within constructions, called Chengyu, with 4 characters or 2 character expressions that must be memorized as they are. For example:
rú jiāo sì qī
“stuck together as if they were glued” (for those who love each other)
rú huǒ rú tú
wǎng shì rú yān
“the past events have vanished like a cloud of smoke”
shēn qīng rú yàn
“light as a feather”
rú huò zhì bǎo
“touch the sky with a finger” (as if finding an inestimable treasure)
bīn zhì rú guī
“to feel at home”
rú chū yī kǒu
rú chū yī̠ zhé
“to be flour from the same sack”
rú duò wǔlǐ wùzhōng
“to feel lost” (as if in a fog)
rú shì zhòng fù
“as if relieved of a great weight”
rú shǔ jiā zhēn
“to know like your own pockets”
rú yú dé shuǐ
“happy as Easter” (like a fish in water)
shíjiān rú liúshuǐ
“time is like flowing water” (it flows quickly)
xụ̌xǔ rú shēng
“realistic / vivid (as life)”
“the same as before”
rú cǐ “so”
“as always, as usual”
不如 (bù rú) “to be less than, to not be like” is used to form the less than comparative when the characteristic being compared is a positive quality.
Nǐ bùrú lǎoshī piàoliang.
You’re not as beautiful as the female professor / you’re less beautiful than the female professor.
Lǎoshī bùrú nǐ cōngming.
The professor is not as smart as you are / the professor is less smart than you are.
Adjectives like “short” and “small”, just to give two examples, are not considered positive qualities, so we will use the less than comparative with 没有 and not 不如.
Māma bù rú bàba gāo.
My mom is less tall than my dad (“tall” is considered a positive characteristic).
Bàba bù rú māma ǎi.
My dad is not as short as my mom; This can’t be used because “short” is considered a negative characteristic.
If we wanted to form a phrase like that, we would use 没有:
bàba méiyǒu māma ǎi.
My dad is not as short as my mom.
When an adjective is used in a construction with 不如 and 好 (hǎo) “to be good, to be well”, 好 can be omitted.
Shuí dōu bùrú tā hǎo.
No one is better than him.
Shuí dōu bùrú tā hǎo.
No one is better than him.
中国人常说：来得早不如来得巧。 (好 is omitted)
Zhōngguórén cháng shuō: láide zǎo bùrú láide qiǎo.
The Chinese often say: arriving first is not (good) like arriving on time.
择日不如撞日，就今天吧！ (好 è omesso)
Zérì bùrú zhuàng rì, jiù jīntiān ba!
Choosing a date is not (good) like doing it by chance, so let’s do it today!