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63 Bigger and Better: Comparatives

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Comparatives are forms of adjectives used to express not a property (e.g. big) but a relative property (e.g. bigger). A comparative (short: comp.) is again an adjective. The base form (big) is sometimes called positive.

In Croatian, most adjectives form their comparatives by adding -iji to their dictionary form or case-base:

dosadan (dosadn-) boringdosadniji more boring
jeftin cheapjeftiniji cheaper
pažljiv carefulpažljiviji more careful
sretan (sretn-) happysretniji happier
star oldstariji older

Comparatives formed in this way usually have the stress on the syllable that comes right before the added -iji (e.g. paž-lji-viji).

Unfortunately, most one-syllable adjectives have complicated alternations of their final consonants in comparative, so their comparative form must be remembered (or you can remember the patterns from the adjectives listed below, but you still have to remember which adjectives have alternations and which just add -iji):

brz fastbrži
blag gentleblaži
čist clean, purečišći
čvrst rigidčvršći
dug longduži

glup stupidgluplji
mlad youngmlađi
skup expensiveskuplji
tih quiettiši
tvrd hardtvrđi

Some one-syllable adjectives use the simpler way to create comparatives and just add -iji. Often used ones are:

crn black
loš bad
nov new
plavi blue

pun full
rani early
slab weak
slan salty

spor slow
star old
strm steep
zdrav healthy

Many two-syllable adjectives, especially ones ending in -ak or -ok, undergo an even greater transformation: they get shortened (e.g. lose -ok) and then go through the consonant alternation as most one-syllable adjectives:

dalek distantdalji
dubok deepdublji
kratak shortkraći
nizak lowniži

širok wideširi
težak heavyteži
uzak narrowuži
visok tallviši

Few adjectives have completely irregular comparatives (everything so far was kind of regular, believe it or not):

dobar goodbolji
dug longdulji
lak light, easylakši
lijep niceljepši

loš badgori
mali smallmanji
mekan softmekši
velik bigveći

There’s an adjective malen with more or less the same meaning as mali small; both use the same comparative. The same goes as mek, a bit archaic variant of mekan soft. The opposite happens to loš bad – it has a regular comparative and an irregular one! Both are used. The same happens to dug long, where two comparatives exist, dulji and duži (some people claim there’s a small difference in meaning, but they are used with the same meaning in the spoken language).

Comparatives always have the obligatory -i in nominative sing. masc., and in cases where there’s a choice of two endings in masc. and neut. genders (i.e. o vs. e) they always have e in endings, even širi wider. (Take care when making impersonal and inflected forms!)

There’s an often quoted rule that -ije- is always shortened to -je- or -e- in comparatives, but it’s not always so in the real life:

blijed palebljeđi (sometimes: blijeđi)
lijep niceljepši
vrijedan valuablevredniji / vrjedniji / vrijedniji

At least since 1950’s, comparative forms like vrijedniji more valuable have been condemned by prescriptive grammarians (i.e. the language police) but they persist. Currently, you can see three forms of this comparative, and the most common one on the .hr domain of the Internet is the non-standard one (the most recent Croatian orthography manual allows forms vredniji and vrjedniji):

form   hits
vredniji 18700
vrjedniji 11600
vrijedniji 22900

To say that something is e.g. bigger than something else, use od¨ + G after the comparative:

Damir je stariji od Ane. Damir is older than Ana.

We know now to say that something is bigger, but what about much bigger? It turns out that with comparatives you can use the adverbs of quantity (introduced in 45 Quantities and Existence):

Tvoj automasc. je mnogo brži. Your car is a lot faster.

Damir je dosta stariji od Ane. Damir is quite older than Ana.

While mnogo sounds a bit formal when expressing relative quantities in Croatian (e.g. mnogo ljudi many people), it’s very often used with comparatives even in very colloquial contexts.

To ask about how is something comparing to something else, use koliko / koliko how much; the comparative is not moved:

Koliko je Damir stariji od Ane? How much older is Damir than Ana?

— Dosta. Quite older.

— Osam godina. Eight years older.

There’s a very compact expression in Croatian:

što + (comp.) ... = as (comp.) ... as possible ®

The word što doesn’t change case when used in this role – a kind of quantity adverb – but the comparative does, of course:

Treba mi1 DL što dublji lonac. I need as deep a pot as possible.

Želimo što veću sobu. We want as big a room as possible.

This phrase is more restricted in Croatian than in English: it’s rarely used for description of actual things, it’s mostly used for things required, needed, imagined and like.

This can be used to maximize comparative adverbs; frequently used ones are:

što brže as quickly as possible
što ranije as early as possible
što prije as soon as possible

For example:

Dođidoći što brže! Come as quickly as possible!

You will sometimes see čim instead of što in such expressions, both with adjectives and adverbs:

Dođidoći čim ranije. Come as early as possible. ®

If you want to express that something is increasing in some property, the easiest way is to use sve before the comparative: this word means all on its own, but not in such constructions:

More postaje sve toplije. The sea is getting/becoming warmer and warmer.

Filmovi su sve dosadniji. Movies are more and more boring.

Another way is to use the same expression like in English, e.g. toplije i toplije (but it’s less common); you can also combine both (e.g. sve toplije i toplije).

If you want to express a difference, you can put the difference in accusative before the comparative, or use za¨ + A after the comparative:

More je stupanj toplije. The sea is warmer by one degree.

More je toplije za stupanj. (the same meaning)

There are two more forms that can be derived from any adjective that has a comparative. Both are quite simple to make – just a prefix needs to be added. This table summarizes them:

mlad young premlad too young
(absolute superlative)
mlađi younger najmlađi the youngest
(superlative)

In the standard stress scheme, the stress moves to the prefix, while in the ‘western’ scheme it usually stays on its original place.

Some absolute superlatives don’t have ‘excessive’ meaning at all anymore. The most common are:

prekrasan (prekrasn-) beautiful, magnificent
prelijep beautiful, magnificent
presretan (presretn-) delighted, ecstatic

The adjectives prekrasan (prekrasn-) and prelijep have more or less the same meaning.

There’s not much else to be told about these forms; you can specify what group you meant with the superlative, using od¨ + G:

Igor je najmlađi od njene djece. Igor is the youngest of her children.

You can also specify the context of the absolute superlative, what for is someone too something:

Igor je premlad da vozi automasc.. Igor too young to drive a car.

This is really merely a purpose clause, all restrictions apply.

It’s worth knowing the verb pair meaning compare:

uspoređivati (-uje) ~ usporediti («) compare ®

The pair is used in the same way as the English verb:

Usporedili smo dva filma. We have compared the two movies.

Usporedila sam novi iPhone s novim Samsungom. I have compared the new iPhone with the new Samsung.

The last example uses s¨/sa¨ + I.

Finally, a few one-syllable adjectives have ‘total forms’, which are reduplicated and have appended -cat. Most common are:

gol golcat all naked
nov novcat brand-new
pun puncat completely full
sam samcat all alone

Occasionally, you’ll see just the second part used (e.g. just novcat) with the same meaning. They are, confusingly, sometimes also called ‘absolute superlatives’ in some grammars. You cannot use this construction with any adjective – only few one-syllable adjectives permit this.

When they are used before nouns, both parts change in case, gender and number:

Ovo su ključevi novog novcatog autamasc.. These are keys of a brand-new car.

________
® Although što is colloquially replaced by šta, and such replacement is complete in Bosnia and Serbia, in both the standard languages and the actual speech, it’s never replaced in phrases što + comparative.

The phrase čim + comparative is specifically Croatian and sounds ungrammatical in Serbia.

The verb pair uspoređivati (-uje) ~ usporediti («) compare has a slightly different form in Serbia and most of Bosnia, without -s-, e.g. uporediti and so on.

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