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Using Worse vs Worst

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Instructor
David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature. He has taught college English for 5+ years.

Expert Contributor
Marc Mancinelli

Marc is a long-time HS English teacher and has taught at the college level. He has a master's degree in literature and a doctorate in education.

Examine the difference between 'worse' and 'worst.' Explore how each word can be used as an adjective or an adverb, and what they mean. Finally, discover the grammar rules that govern when and how they should be used. Updated: 12/28/2021

Worse vs. Worst

Let's say you ate a really gross cafeteria lunch today. It was definitely worse than the lunch you had yesterday, but was it the worst?

'Worse' and 'worst' are both words that describe something bad. They can be used as adjectives to describe a noun (like your lunch) or an adverb to describe a verb or another adjective. They also can function as nouns to describe a bad thing.

But when should you use 'worse' and when should you use 'worst?' Well, 'worse' is a comparative adjective or adverb, describing something that is more disagreeable than something else. By comparison, 'worst' is a superlative adjective or an adverb that means something is as bad as it can get: there is nothing that can get worse.

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Use of Worse

'Worse' is most commonly used as a comparative adjective that describes a noun. And since it's a comparative adjective, it's often followed by 'than,' indicating what the noun is being compared to. Here are some examples both with and without 'than:'

  • This food is bad, but it could be worse.
  • This Nicolas Cage movie is worse than the last Nicolas Cage movie I saw.
  • Being grounded on a Friday night is bad, but being grounded on a Saturday is even worse.

These adjectives all describe nouns, but 'worse' can also be used as an adverb, which modifies a noun or other adjective, as in these examples:

  • I did worse than Jane on the math test.
  • I feel like I am getting worse at basketball even though I practice every day.
  • I was hoping to be over this illness, but I am doing worse today.

Notice that in these sentences, 'worse' is used to compare two actions or things, even if the actions or things being compared are not directly stated.

'Worse' also can be used as a noun to describe a bad event or state of being, as shown in these examples:

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Additional Activities

Review

Worse and worst are two words that sound very similar and have closely related meanings. The key difference is that worse is used when directly comparing two or more things, and worst is used to describe something that is the "most bad." For instance if the fish you had today is bad but yesterday's was really bad, you'd say that yesterday's meal is worse. But if yesterday's meal was the "least good" fish you've ever had, you'd say it was the worst. There's nowhere for that meal to go—it's the "most bad" you've ever had.

Practice

Choose whether worse or worst is appropriate for the sentences below.

  1. I felt worse/worst yesterday; I think I'm starting to recover.
  2. I think I was the worse/worst shortstop in the history of baseball!
  3. Don't pick at your scab or you'll just make it worse/worst.
  4. This has got to be the worse/worst vacation we've ever had.
  5. I tried to paint over the smudge but I think I just made it worse/worst than before.

Interesting Notes

– When talking about food you might also hear the word "wurst," which is a kind of sausage popular in Germany and Austria. It's pronounced the same, so don't get confused! You might even hear, "This wurst is worse than yesterday's wurst, but it's not the worst wurst I've ever had…"

– The phrase "If worse comes to worst…" is a common English expression. The idiom references a certain point you might encounter where things get dire, as in "If worse comes to worst and we run out of party food, we can just order pizzas." The expression as it was first developed was "if worst comes to worst," but modern ears often prefer "if worse comes to worst," which makes somewhat more logical sense. Both can be used, though "worse/worst" is more common.

Answer Key

  1. worse
  2. worst
  3. worse
  4. worst
  5. worse

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