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In Spanish, there are three grades of comparison: Equality, Inequality and Superlative, and an absolute superlative.
This Tip for the Week is the first in a series of four articles, intended to offer Analytic Linguists and aspiring ones a few perspectives on this topic in a systematic and progressive manner, to complement their previous language study. Since this audience is often comprised of heritage speakers of Spanish, they may occasionally exhibit instances of linguistic interference or contamination from English when using this frequently encountered aspect of Spanish. In our examples, we have included vocabulary typical of what Analytic Linguists are likely to hear when monitoring calls.
Before beginning to examine and analyze the comparative degrees just identified, keep in mind that when an adjective is used to describe a noun (or nouns of the same type) without comparing that noun (or other nouns of the same type) to another (or others), this usage is known as the positive degree.
Esta pandilla es peligrosa.
This gang is dangerous.
Estas pandillas son peligrosas.
These gangs are dangerous.
After reviewing the positive degree, we proceed to the comparative degree of equality by introducing a second noun (or nouns) to contrast or compare with the that noun (or nouns). Let’s retain the examples above which we used to show the positive or simple descriptive degree, using pandilla and pandillas.
Think for just a moment about how you would compare them if you wished to observe that they are equally dangerous. You probably do not need a brief review of demonstrative adjectives and demonstrative pronouns in order to readily grasp the concept of comparisons of equality, but it is important to note their usage in these examples.
As for the phrase structure of comparisons of equality, note how it consists of verb + tan + adjective + como + noun. These first examples show comparison of equality with respect to an adjective: peligrosa(s), a quality that the noun pandilla[s] possesses:
Esta pandilla es tan peligrosa como ésa.
This gang is as dangerous as that one.
Estas pandillas son tan peligrosas como ésas.
These gangs are as dangerous as those.
Note that this formula also is used when comparing adverbs:
Esa moto corre tan rápido [rápidamente] como el mío.
That motorcycle goes as fast [quickly] as mine.
Next, note how a comparison of equality may also be made with respect to a verb. While the phrase structure is the same as when comparing nouns with respect to an adjective, the word tan now changes to tanto:
Esta pandilla vende tanto como ésa.
This gang sells as much as that one.
Estas pandillas venden tanto como ésas.
These gangs sell as much as those.
Lastly, when the comparison focuses on the quantities of nouns (as opposed to quality of nouns), the phrase structure remains the same, but instead of tan, we use tantos or tantas, for “count nouns” (those things we count, individually, such as sweaters). For “non-count nouns” (those things which we do not count, such bulk items, like rice), Spanish uses tanto and tanta, according to the grammatical gender of the noun:
Mi homie tiene tantos cuetes como mi tío.
My homie has as many pistols as my uncle.
Mi carnal tiene tantas balas como tú
My buddie has as many bullets as you.
Esa chola come tanto arroz como su hermana.
That chola eats as much rice as her sister.
Él compró tanta yesca como ellos.
He bought as much pot as they.
By systematically examining the structures and progressing through the different types of comparisons of equality (comparisons with respect to adjectives, adverbs, verbs and quantities of nouns), and analyzing them, you can form a clear and lasting idea of the concept rather quickly.
If ever you have been confused about how to express comparisons of equality, we hope this presentation has helped increase your consciousness of how they work.
The next Tip for the Week will cover comparisons of inequality, so please come visit us again next week.