Russian Language Blog

Comparative Degree in Russian Sayings Posted by on Mar 24, 2014 in Russian for beginners

Within the larger subject of degrees of comparison, I would like to concentrate on the smaller group of adjectives and adverbs that form their comparative form with the -ше suffix. As you remember, the more prevalent pattern for forming the comparative is the -ней/нее suffix, such as холодно – холоднее. However, a number of high-frequency words do form their comparative degree using -ше, and since they feature in several Russian sayings and proverbs, why don’t we go over some of the most popular of these to help you remember the comparatives. There are several idiomatic English translation for some of them, but I will only list one.

Distance (Далеко – дальше)

Тише едешь – дальше будешь — haste makes waste, “the more slowly you go, the farther you will get”

Чем дальше в лес, тем больше дров — “the farther into the woods, the more firewood.” This is used to talk about the complications that increase as time passes.

There are also several humorous permutations of this saying, such as Чем дальше в лес, тем толще партизаны. Партизаны are guerilla/resistance fighters, usually from the World War II era. Some of them formed militias and went into the woods to sabotage the Nazi forces’ operations. Толще is the comparative of толстый (fat).

Less is More (Мало – меньше)

Меньше народу – больше кислороду — “the fewer people, the more oxygen.” Used to express relief about someone not coming or joining your party.

Меньше знаешь, крепче спишь — what you don’t know won’t hurt you; “the less you know, the better you sleep”

It Gets Better (Хорошо – лучше)

Чем раньше, тем лучше — the sooner, the better

Лучше меньше, да лучше — less is more; “better less but better”

Лучше синица в руках, чем журавль в небе — a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush; “better a tit bird (Parus) in your hands than a crane in the sky”

Лучше один раз увидеть, чем сто раз услышать — a picture is worth a thousand words; “better to see something once than to hear one hundred times”

Лучше поздно, чем никогда — better late than never

В гостях хорошо, а дома лучше — there is no place like home; “it’s good to be visiting, but it’s better to be home”

Старый друг лучше новых двух  — Old friends and old wine are best; “an old friend is better than two new ones”

Other Comparisons

Хрен редьки не слаще — six of one, half a dozen of the other; “horseradish is no sweeter than a radish” (сладкий – слаще). Used to show that neither alternative is better, so might as well not switch one for the other.

Своя рубашка ближе к телу — charity begins at home; “your own shirt is closer to your body” (близко – ближе)

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About the Author: Maria

Maria is a Russian-born translator from Western New York. She is excited to share her fascination with all things Russian on this blog. Maria's professional updates are available in English on her website and Twitter and in Russian on Telegram.


  1. Vale:

    Hi, Maria!
    “Меньше народу – больше кислороду — “the more people, the less oxygen.” Isn’t it the opposite?
    Btw, great post!

    • Maria:

      @Vale Vale, thanks; good catch! I fixed it. Thanks for stopping by.