What is the difference between “wie” and “als”?

comparisonsIn English we speak about things that are as big as something else but bigger than.

In German we use the term “als” (that unfortunately looks suspiciously like as…as) for the latter case, i.e. when things are

kleiner als = smaller than

schneller als = faster than

Please notice that for the comparative form we just add an “-er” regardless of how long the adjective is. For longer adjectives of two syllables or more English often uses the more … than format but German is a bit more consistent in its approach here

interessanter als = more interesting than

We would never speak of something being “mehr interessant als”! Beware of this as this is a common mistake for people learning German coming from an English language background.

When things are on an even scale we use the format “so [adjective] wie” or alternatively “genauso [adjective] wie”

so teuer wie = as expensive as

so erfolgreich wie = as successful as

so schön wie = as beautiful as

genauso gut wie = as good as

Mind you, listen closely and you’ll notice that there are actually a good number of Germans who mistakenly say stuff along the lines of: “Das Buch war viel interessanter wie der Film” or even: “Das Buch war viel interessanter als wie der Film”.

Just because even native speakers may occasionally mess up in that department should not stop you from using the forms correctly. So if you discuss a book and its cinematic adaptation you will properly say:

Das Buch war viel interessanter als der Film. The book was more interesting than the film.

Or:

Der Film war (genau)so interessant wie das Buch. The film was just as interesting as the book.

5 thoughts on “What is the difference between “wie” and “als”?

  1. What happens when both are used in a sentence? I was reading this: “Mein Leben, ein Leben ist es kaum, / Ich gehe dahin als wie im Traum.” by Theodor Fontane, and I don’t know what to do with that “als wie”

    • The short answer: You don’t ever say “als wie”.

      The long answer: That expression is quite common in Germany but nevertheless it is incorrect. “als wie” can (and should) always simply be replaced with “wie” or “(genau)so wie”.

      Now I don’t want to accuse Fontane of using bad German so in his case I would plead poetic licence. Also (and I am not really sure about this) I have a gut feeling that in his time that expression “als wie” may have still been more acceptable.

      • Thank’s for taking the time to answer. Wie and als are very interesting words. I wonder if there’s more words like wie and als in german. I’m native spanish and we compare things in a much easy way… I mean we don’t distinguish the “equal as” and the “different than” forms.

  2. I’m wondering if any German dialects use “als” in place of “wie”. Eg “Er ist so schlank als sie”? The reason is in Dutch we often use “als” where German uses “wie”, and “dan” (than) where German uses “als”, altghough “als” in Dutch is also possible here the closer you get to the borders between DE and BE. I’m thinking there might be places on the DE side close to the border where this distinction gets fluid?

    • You know, I don’t think there is any difference in the usage closer to the Dutch border. However, I have a Flemish friend who, when he speaks German, tends to use als/wie exactly the way you describe it which now makes more sense to me. 🙂

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