These are words which we use to compare things (comparativos), to say that things are bigger (superlativos/augmentativos) or smaller (diminutivos).
Let’s start with simple translations of some of these words:
Más & menos can be used with words which describe something, & que – for example an adjective which describes a noun (thing) or an adverb which describes a verb (action), as in the following examples:
Más – adverb – que
Javier corre más rápido que Manuel – Javier runs faster than Manuel.
Menos – adjective – que
María es menos habladora que Sandra – María is less talkative than Sandra.
Here are some ‘stand alone’ comparatives.
El equipo de fútbol Valencia es bueno, pero Real Madrid es mejor.
Ana y María son jóvenes, pero Sandra es menor.
Muy simply means ‘very’. You’d think it would be difficult to misuse that……. but I’ve often heard it used instead of más & mucho/a.
Mucho & mucha mean ‘a lot’ or ‘much’ & as you can see are gender-specific. These are used in exactly the same way as the English translations, with something uncountable ……. & money, which is easily countable for most of us!
Hay mucha leche en la nevera. There is a lot of milk in the fridge.
Javier tiene mucho dinero. Javier has a lot of money.
Poco & poca mean ‘a little’ & are gender specific and also used with something uncountable. ‘A little’ as opposed to ‘little’ or ‘small’ which is pequeño or pequeña.
Hay poca leche – there is (a) little milk
La botella de leche es pequeña – the bottle of milk is small.
Muchos & muchas mean ‘a lot’ or ‘many’ & again are gender specific. They are also used in exactly the same way as the English translations, this time with something countable ……. And pocos & pocas are the opposite – few.
Cuando eran niños tenían muchos amigos – when they were children they had many friends.
Francisco no es tan amable, que tiene pocos amigos. – Francisco isn’t so friendly, he has few friends.
Which brings us to tan, tanto/tanta & tantos/tantas.
Tan can be used when comparing things, in a similar way to más & menos, with adjectives & adverbs, but with como, rather than que.
María es tan alta como su hermana. – María is as tall as her sister.
Tan can also mean ‘so’
Sandra es tan guapa – Sandra is so beautiful.
Tanto/tanta & tantos/tantas are clearly gender specific
Los niños hacen tanto ruido cuando juegan al fútbol en la calle – The children make so much noise when they play football in the street.
¡Habían tantas manzanas en ese árbol! There were so many apples on that tree!
There are also suffixes (bits added on to a word) which mean that it’s bigger or smaller.
One example of a diminutivo (diminutive – makes it smaller) is ito/ita &an example of an aumentativo ( augmentative – makes it bigger) is ón. In some parts of Spain ico/ica or Illo/illa are commonly used diminutivos, and there are other augmentative suffixes, too, such as azo/aza & ote/ota.
And we mustn’t forget ísimo/ísima.
Ignacio es alto, pero su hermano Julio es altísimo.