A case for grammar: as and how – what do you use when?

You might think there are more important topics of contention in everyday life than German grammar. But there we are wrong. In German we often have different ways of expressing one and the same thing differently. In such cases of doubt, opinions really do diverge. High time to clear up the most common misunderstandings, borderline cases and uncertainties of our language! So in this article, we’ll turn our attention to a popular – or perhaps not so popular – topic: As and Like.

While some with devotion the small word like When we use the same methods in all situations in life, the hairs on the back of others’ necks stand on end. Some even clasp their hands over their heads in shock and hiss angrily between clenched teeth: "That means that they have a problem as and not like !"

What do they have in common ..

But what is right now? Before we get to what is used when, let’s first look at what both words have in common. This is not witchcraft at all and can be summarized simplified in one sentence: One uses Than and as basically to compare two things with each other.

… and what makes them different?

So what is the difference? In theory, this is not particularly difficult either.

The word as Is used when something is different when comparing. The word like on the other hand describes when something is the same.

Let’s go through this together with an example: "Russian is harder than English"." Here an inequality is expressed. The following example sentence is completely different: "Danish is just as easy to learn as Swedish." Here the comparing objects are on the same level. Accordingly, equality demands the little word like .

Basically, you can remember that after a comparative, the little word as follows – i.e. whenever something is bigger, smaller, worse or tastier. Also after the words "different", "nothing" or "vice versa" usually follows als , there is something unequal: "Different from the last party, many people came."

The perfect mnemonic for as and how

If this is still a bit confusing, here’s the perfect mnemonic for you.

If one looks at the word as an, the "l" is larger than the "a", thus unequal. With the comparative particle like all letters are at the same height, so it is used in case of equality.

This trick is as simple as it is ingenious!

But wait, what about as how?

Again, the answer is simple: than how there is no such thing! Because nothing can be equal and unequal at the same time, except perhaps in quantum physics. This variant is therefore not common in the standard language.

But if you are wondering why the famous German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote the following lines in Faust I: "Da steh’ ich nun, ich armer Tor! / And am as wise as before; …", let it be said, it is still not correct in standard linguistic terms. There also our most renowned poet is of no use. One possible explanation for the use of this doubling could be that Goethe came from Hesse, and at the time of the first printing of Faust, this is how it was spoken there.

It was not until 1880 that no one less than Konrad Duden attempted to standardize and regulate German spelling with his orthographic dictionary for the German language. Our example then also falls under this as and like. Konrad Duden’s proposals were mostly accepted at the so-called Orthographic Conference in 1901.

Since then the German language is standardized and it applies: In doubt always for the Duden!

So, when do I use as and how? Here are our like and as examples in the overview:

The little word as is used when comparing something different is. The word Like on the other hand, describes when something same is.

  • "Russian is more difficult than English." – inequality
  • "Danish is just as easy to learn as Swedish"." – equality

The perfect mnemonic: At the word as, the "l" is greater than the "a", so unequal. At like all letters are at the same height, so it is used with equality.

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