More or less everything about comparing things
If you live in France you get asked the differences between life in the UK and life here in France, or what made you choose to come and live here in the first place? Or maybe go and buy something in a shop and ask if they have something more … or less…. than the one you are holding?
French people learning English have a more complicated hill to climb, as they have to know when you just add –er or –est to the describing word or whether you have to use more and most. Something are importanter than others and take more long to learn! In French it is relatively easy. More important is just “plus important” and longer as measure of time is “plus longtemps” Both times “plus” is pronounced without the “s” – [plew] – because it is in front of the word it is going with, so it’s in the right place. (Remember, when words get used away from where they belong, they need a stronger shape or sound, like “me” and “moi”. We’ll be coming back to this a bit later in this article.)
Less is “moins” [mwung], so things that are less important are “moins important” and things that are less long are “moins long” or go on for “moins longtemps”.
The good news is that plus… or moins…. covers both more and most. A smaller house is “une plus petite maison”; the smallest house is “la plus petite maison”. A more important thing is “une chose plus importante”; the most important thing is “la chose la plus importante.”
This is where most textbooks introduce “as ……as” as well. When two things are the same size, or you are comparing two things that are the same in some way, as important, as long, as expensive or living there for as long, you’d say “aussi important, aussi long, aussi cher, aussi longtemps”. But in French “aussi” has the same sense as “également,” the word you hear sometimes when you wish someone a “bonne journée” So the two things you are comparing are equally whatever.
The glue word that ties the two things you are comparing is the same for “more” or “less” or “just as”. It’s “que”; So “Marseilles est plus grand que Limoges”, though don’t tell the Limogeauds! Especially as they play better basketball! (Ils jouent mieux au basket que les Marseillais! Ils ont de meilleurs joueurs) L’eau est moins chère que le vin. La vie est aussi agréable ici qu’en Espagne. Life is as pleasant here as in Spain. But if someone has eaten so much they are as big as a house don’t say Il est aussi gros qu’une maison, as it clearly can’t be the case. Making comparisons like that, which are purely figurative, you’d say “Il est gros comme une maison” (big like a house), just like when you are emphasizing a letter of the alphabet, you might say “P comme Pierre” or “O comme orange”.
Of course, degrees of goodness and badness have to be different, “comme en anglais”. In English, we say better or best instead of more good, or more well, and worse and worst instead of more or most bad(ly). This is the one place French is more difficult. In English you may say good or bad for a thing or well or badly for the way it is doing something, but when it is doing it in a more good or bad way we use the same better/best and worse/worst for both adjective and adverb. In French the equivalent for good things or doing things well, have different shapes for the adjective and adverb. Just as good is “bon, bonne, bons or bonnes”, better as an adjective is “meilleur, meilleure, meilleurs or meilleures”, depending on whether the thing or person you are talking about is masculine or feminine or whether there is one of them or more than one. The adverb form of well is “mieux”. You can see this above in the comment about Limoges CSP.
When you are talking about more or less money, or sugar, or weight etc., then you are talking about a quantity, as as you know already I am sure, when you talk about quantity there has to be the glue word “de” in there. Plus d’argent; moins de sucre.
Just like beaucoup de…/peu de…., (a lot/a little). For similar quantities, you say “autant de…”- as much coffee/autant de café, as many cars/ autant de voitures.
As I suggested above, sometimes you hear the “s” at the end of “plus”. It can be because it feels a bit exposed at the end of a phrase, for instance “En plus” = what’s more. But there is a confusing between “Il y a plus de cerises” and “Il n’y a plus de cerises” – there is only that little “n’” to differentiate between there being more cherries and there being none left. “Plus d’argent” could mean more money, but without a verb to stick ne in front of, it could equally mean no more money. So to make sure, some French speakers (but not all) pronounce the “s” on the end to show they mean definitely more and not no more. When “plus” means no more, it never has the s pronounced. If you want to avoid confusion altogether, you can say “davantage de” instead of “plus de” meaning more of something.