Category: "Comparatives"

В (degree of comparison)

by Don  

English and Russian both have special comparison forms for adjectives and adverbs, which makes them seem sort of similar. In English the comparative form often ends in -er, and in Russian it often ends in -е or -ее:

The Ferrari is faster than the Toyota. Феррари быстрее, чем Тойота.
Bill Gates is richer than Eike Batista. Билл Гейтс богаче, чем Айке Батиста.
This building is taller than that building. Это здание выше, чем то здание.
Joan Collins is older than Keira Knightley. Джон Кaлинз старше, чем Кира Найтли.¹

But here is a curious thing: if you want to say how many times someone or something is faster, richer, taller or older, then in English there are two constructions you can use. One of them uses an “” phrase without a comparative form, and one of them uses a comparative form with a ‘than’ phrase.

The Ferrari is twice as fast as the Toyota.
The Ferrari is two times faster than the Toyota.

Joan Collins is three times as old as Keira Knightley.
Joan Collins is three times older than Keira Knightley.

This building is five times as tall as that building.
This building is five times taller than that building.

In Russian you always use the comparative form. The word for ‘time’ in this context is раз, which has an irregular genitive plural ‘раз’, and the number must be preceded by the preposition в, which in this context works with the accusative case of the number:

Феррари в два раза быстрее, чем Тойота.
Джон Калинз в три раза старше, чем Кира Найтли.
Это здание в пять раз выше, чем то здание.

Oh, let's try a few more.

Население Москвы в двадцать два раза больше, чем население Тулы. The population of Moscow is twenty two times larger than the population of Tula.
У моей двоюродной сестры в три раза больше зубов, чем у меня. У неё такая красивая улыбка. My cousin has three times as many teeth as I do. She has such a pretty smile.
Бриллианты в сорок раз дороже, чем муассанит. Diamonds are forty times more expensive than moissanite.

¹ If you look at the Wikipedia article on Joan Collins, you will see her name transliterated as Джоан Коллинз, which has an unpronounced ‘а’ and an unpronounced extra ‘л’, which have been added under the influence of English spelling. That is a *bad thing*. Dear Russian Wikipedia authors, please do not fall under the terrible influence of English spelling. You have a marvelous tradition in Russian of spelling things much more closely to their pronunciation. It is why the Russian application of Cyrillic is superior to the English application of the Latin alphabet. Notice that the author of the Kira Knightley article didn't make that mistake. Please maintain your excellent and sensible tradition, and, eight hundred years from now, when we English speakers finally have a sensible spelling reform, you can taunt us with an alphabetic “I told you so!”


by Don  

Лучше means better. It can be used either as an adverb or as a short-form adjective.

Я плохо говорю по-немецки, но хочу говорить лучше. I speak German poorly, but I want to speak it better.
Обещаю тебе, мама, я буду лучше учиться! I promise you, Mom, I'll study harder! (Lit. “better”)
У тебя красивая машина, но моя — лучше. You have a pretty car, but mine is better.

If you want to include a “than” in the sentence, then the word you want is чем:

Таня говорит по-французски лучше, чем я. Tanya speaks French better than I.
Моя сестра пишет лучше, чем она поёт. My sister writes better than she sings.

Interestingly enough, if the чем is followed by a noun or pronoun in the nominative case, you can make an equivalent construction by dropping the чем and using the genitive of the noun/pronoun:

Мой брат старше, чем я. My brother is older than I.
Мой брат старше меня.
Твой муж играет в теннис лучше, чем моя жена. Your husband plays tennis better than my wife.
Твой муж играет в теннис лучше моей жены.

Лучше is also often used with future tense verbs or imperative verbs to express the idea of “it would be better”:

— Можно я переночую у тебя?
— Лучше ты пойдёшь домой.
“May I spend the night at your place?”
“It would be better if you went home.”
— Я спрошу папу, где ключи от машины.
— Лучше ты спроси у брата. Они только что были у него.
“I'll ask Dad where the car keys are.”
“You had better ask your brother instead. He just had them.”

Last but not least, here we have a standard mother-in-law joke that uses the word:

Жена разговаривает по телефону, потом кладёт трубку.
Муж (читая газету):
A woman is talking on the phone. She hangs up. The husband, reading the paper, asks:
- Это кто был? “Who was that?”
- Да мама. Она, по-моему, уже наполовину сумасшедшая. “It was Mom. I think she is half crazy.”
- А-а-а… Значит, получше стало. “Hmmm… sounds like things are getting better.”