I'm a certified English teacher who used to teach sophomore English before becoming a full-time mom.
Worse or Worst? Learn When to Use Each Word Correctly
Sometimes, English can be hard.
One of the most common word usage mistakes is confusing "worse" with "worst." When speaking, your audience might not hear the mistake, but you will definitely want to get it right in writing.
"Worse" and "worst" sound similar, but once you understand that "worse" is used when comparing two items and "worst" announces the winner in the competition of who's the "most bad," it becomes much easier to use the right word.
As a certified English teacher—I taught sophomore English before becoming a full-time mom—I'd always see this mistake. Here is how I explained it to my students in easy-to-remember terms so they'd never confuse the two again.
Worse vs. Worst: Which Is Which?
What Does Worse Mean?
"Worse" is a comparative word, just like "better." It means that, when comparing two things, one is deemed to be "worse" (and not "worst") than the other. Worse means of a lower quality or standard.
Here are examples of the word "worse" used properly in a sentence:
- Margaret's cooking is worse than Joe's.
- Wooden roller coasters are much worse than steel ones.
- Cheer is worse than Tide for getting stains out.
- Artificial sweeteners are worse for your health than sugar.
- I feel even worse today than I did yesterday.
What Does Worst Mean?
While "worse" compares two items, "worst" is a superlative. Think of "worst" like "best," only in the negative. When something is much more terrible than other things, it is the "worst" of them all. Worst means of the lowest quality or standard.
Here are examples of "worst" used correctly in a sentence:
- That was the worst movie ever!
- I have the worst memory when it comes to names.
- The hottest part of the day is the worst time to do yard work in the summer months.
- Skunks are the worst-smelling animals.
- Yuck! That's the worst restaurant in town.
Neat trick: See how in each of these examples, "worst" is preceded by "the"? So in a sentence, if you use the article "the" just before, remember that "worst" will usually follow.
When to Use "Worse" in a Sentence
Use "worse" when you're making a comparison between two things: "Rotten fish smells even worse than rotten eggs."
Use "worse" wherever you would use a word that ends with "er" as a comparison: "The Harry Potter movies are [shorter, easier, scarier, awfuller] worse than the books."
Use "worse" with "than". Since "worse" is comparative, it is often used with the word "than" in comparisons: "The new Teen Titans is much worse than the original." (You'd never say "worst than.")
Watch out for implied (unspoken) comparisons. Sometimes, the comparison is implied, so you won't see two things being compared in the sentence: "Hamburgers and sliders are basically the same, but I think sliders are worse [than hamburgers]."
Use "worse" to describe something that is degrading (worsening): "My headache keeps getting worse."
Use "worse" to describe something that is degrading, even when the comparison is implicit (unspoken): "The economy is getting much worse [than it was before]."
Taking that test was worse than getting punched in the eye... but flunking is the worst!
When to Use "Worst" in a Sentence
Use "worst" to say that one thing is inferior to several other things: "I did every machine at the gym, but the squat rack was the worst."
Use "worst" after "the" to indicate which is the most bad thing: "Fat-free, sugar-free cookies taste the worst."
Whenever you would use a word ending in "est": "My vacation was the [wildest, calmest, tastiest, best] worst trip ever!
Common Idioms That Include Worse or Worst
One of the most confusing aspects of English are the numerous idioms and colloquial phrases. Below are common idioms and phrases that use the words worse or worst.
"When worse comes to worst."
This phrase simply means that a bad situation (one that was simply worse off than another) has now become the most terrible that it could possibly be (it is now the worst). A modern take on this idiom is the phrase "from bad to worse."
This phrase is often misspoken with the word "worse," but the correct way to say it is with "worst." The intention is you are planning for the worst possible outcome. You often hear the phrase "worst-case scenario" describing the most negative possible outcome that might occur in a given situation.
"None the worse for wear."
This means that the challenge or extra effort didn't leave an individual or item any worse off. Although an item was used, it was not ruined.
"Their bark is worse than their bite."
This idiom simply compares a person's behavior (their "bark") with their intention (their bite). It means that they might complain loudly, but when it comes right down to it, the noise they make is more painful than anything else that might happen.
"A fate worse than death."
This idiom compares a situation with death and asserts that what has befallen is even worse than dying. Since you're comparing two items, you use "worse."
"Take a turn for the worse."
This is perhaps the phrase that is most often misspoken. The situation has gotten worse than it was originally, therefore, you use "worse" and not "worst."
© 2011 Wendy Leanne
What do you think? How do you remember to use these words correctly?
David on January 24, 2019:
oops, important typo:
I thought the saying was "when worst comes to worse"
To reiterate: the situation was thought to already be the worst but then it became worse.
Ngram finds no results for this but I thought I'd share my mistake and reasoning.
Madan kumar, Chennai, India. on September 19, 2018:
Your explanation is good. I understood the difference between two. If you put some exercise on worse and worst means it will be very help to practice..
GalaxyRat on June 11, 2017:
Worst and worse sound and look strange when you think about it. :D
Andrea on December 22, 2015:
Googled Worse vs. Worst after I caught the typo in a published book and almost put the book down. After searching a dozen articles, THIS one clarified it so very well.
Antoinette Lee Toscano from Raleigh, NC on October 28, 2015:
This was so helpful thank you. I'm a new fan.
Lynn Klobuchar on March 29, 2014:
Thank you! It helps to hear someone else explain it.
norma-holt on February 16, 2014:
Great leans. I needed to check on the difference between these words for something I am writing and came across this lens. Good work.
anonymous on August 26, 2013:
Thanks for answering my Worse vs. Worst questions! That dang English language gets you every now and again!
anonymous on July 07, 2013:
Totally awesome... Thank you!
geosum on April 05, 2013:
WordChipper on February 26, 2013:
Shoot... 2/3 guess I better practise my english gooder before it gets worst. LOL
suepogson on February 17, 2013:
Very clear - thanks
Wedding Mom on February 07, 2013:
3 out of 3. Nice lens! Very informative.
Wendy Leanne (author) from Texas on February 06, 2013:
@anonymous: No. It would always be worded worst case scenario, worse case scenario would always be awkward. If you were to compare two scenarios it would be worded "winning $100 would be worse than winning $200." Or you could say scenario A is worse than scenario B. When worse is used it must be when comparing one thing or situation to another.
anonymous on February 06, 2013:
NO. MY QUESTION IS CAN THERE BE A WORST-CASE scenario. EVERY SITUATION DOES NOT CALL FOR COMPARING SOMETHING TO THE WORST CASE. IF I HAVE 500$ AND GO TO THE CASINO, LOSING
200$ WOULD BE A WORSE CASE SCENARIO THAN WINNING 100$, WHEREAS LOSING THE WHOLE 500 WOULD BE WORST CASE.
anonymous on January 21, 2013:
My mom would have been the worse cook if there were only two cooks
Digory LM on December 27, 2012:
The stress from these squid-quizzes are the worst! Not really. Nice lens.
Lisa Auch from Scotland on December 17, 2012:
cough...think I need to study a bit more !
anonymous on December 09, 2012:
Yes that was really clear. Thanks.
anonymous on November 26, 2012:
yes. thanks a lot!
siobhanryan on October 23, 2012:
Blessed-unique idea for a lens
anonymous on October 08, 2012:
Thank you for this article- very informational. Worthy to read.
Squidviews on October 06, 2012:
The worst one that I see all the time is people mixing up then and than, can't get worse than that. LOL
Wendy Leanne (author) from Texas on September 07, 2012:
@bskcom: Ha! That might not go over well at all, but it sure would be grammatically correct! =)
bskcom on September 05, 2012:
Ahhh...so that's how I can e-mail my wife to tell her that her chicken casserole was worse than her pasta--which was the worst thing I ever ate. :)
Kathryn Grace from San Francisco on September 04, 2012:
You have done an excellent job explaining the difference between worse and worst.
Lorelei Cohen from Canada on September 01, 2012:
I aced the quiz so I guess my worst fears were not to be realized. I do indeed know the difference between worse and worst.
anonymous on August 28, 2012:
Very helpful, thank you.
anonymous on July 26, 2012:
anonymous on July 26, 2012:
Awesome info and they really make sure you get the point
anonymous on July 25, 2012:
Crystal Clear! ^_^
Aster56 on July 25, 2012:
anonymous on July 24, 2012:
certainly it helps!!! thank u!!!
anonymous on July 20, 2012:
You are awesome! Thank you!
anonymous on July 20, 2012:
You are awesome! Thank you!
anonymous on June 29, 2012:
Thank you, English is my second language and this was very helpful
anonymous on June 27, 2012:
Ninuzza on June 12, 2012:
Nice lesson--realized that even though I know better, I often say, "took a turn for the worst"! Thanks for the reminder!
Virginia Allum LM on June 02, 2012:
Nice lens. Good resource for teachers to give students to use at home.
anonymous on May 19, 2012:
anonymous on May 19, 2012:
Very impressed; that was an excellent explanation. The examples and the questions were also quite helpful.
BestRatedStuff on May 05, 2012:
I too had no real problem with these words, but, I did enjoy how you explained it, and it was definitely better then I could. Thanks for sharing.
PaulRyan on April 28, 2012:
:) I have no problems with worse and worst, but many people do. Now I have a fun page to send them every time they make a mistake!
anonymous on April 28, 2012:
That was great! Thx
anonymous on April 16, 2012:
Thanks, I remembered that worst = best, but needed the refresher course on worse = better. Your lesson was concise and easy to understand. I knew it was going to be good when I saw that you were an English Teacher AND a Mom.
anonymous on April 12, 2012:
I get it now...
anonymous on April 11, 2012:
It was great! TY
Indigo Janson from UK on March 31, 2012:
Good, clear explanation of worse vs. worst. I often see people getting tripped up by sound-alike or spell-alike words of this kind. Lose vs loose is another one, not to mention bear vs bare. It always makes me smile at the visual image when someone writes "bear with me" and I silently reply "no thanks, I don't know you well enough!" ;)
anonymous on March 26, 2012:
good answers, but I'd like to offer my definition of Worse vs Worst;
when comparison two or several things, use Worse for two things and Worst for more than two. e.g. This is WORSE than the other. This is the WORST.
anonymous on March 16, 2012:
This was very helpful, thank-you.
anonymous on March 10, 2012:
Thank you, this lesson was really very well explain. I will never forget the difference worse vs worst !!!
anonymous on February 28, 2012:
Thanks for sharing with us this explanation. It was just great. I will remember this lesson always ;)
Chazz from New York on February 05, 2012:
Thanks for a great lens that addresses one of the worst grammar mistakes on my pet peeves list.
anonymous on January 19, 2012:
Well, I missed one but I blame myself for not reading thoroughly. Anyway, this was a really helpful article. I've always struggled with it. Thank you for the help!
Fay Favored from USA on January 10, 2012:
Yes. It would look pretty bad if a teacher got them wrong. The quiz was a good idea. We all need to be refreshed once in a while. Here's one I am always correcting for people: a lot vs. a lot. (or allot). There have been great arguments over this one.
WayneDave LM on November 21, 2011:
It is pretty easy really! Nice lens though, thanks for sharing.
anonymous on November 19, 2011:
Nice one. Squidoo is helpful I also like http://www.squidoo.com/teach-your-children-english
anonymous on November 18, 2011:
I got 100% on the quiz, but this lens would be very useful for anyone who struggles to tell the difference between these 2 words. Thanks for sharing!
anonymous on November 13, 2011:
spartakct on November 08, 2011:
Treasures By Brenda from Canada on October 20, 2011:
Yikes, another English teacher...nicely done resource page.
Wendy Leanne (author) from Texas on October 20, 2011:
@anonymous: Hi, Katie. Thank you so much for letting me know about the typo. That was so sweet of you to take the time to tell me. I'm dyslexic and tend to miss typos like that.
"Could this day get any worse?" is in deed correct. You are asking if this day could get worse than it currently is. Therefore you are comparing two items, which would make it "worse" and not "worst." On the other hand, you would say "This day is the worst!" Because in that situation you are claiming it's the worst day ever.
Great question! Thanks for stopping by. =)
anonymous on October 20, 2011:
Hi, you have a typo:
"While worse compares wto items, worst is a superlative."
p.s. What about: Could this day get any worse? Is this correct?
Johanna Eisler on October 01, 2011:
Excellent explanation. :) Three cheers for grammar lenses! (Also spelling lenses - are there any? Think I'll go check.)
anonymous on September 08, 2011:
I know five languages - And Tamil being my mother tongue; always wondered, which of the other four would have to considered my 'second' language! But then I love English and its idiosyncrasies too much! :)
Wendy Leanne (author) from Texas on August 29, 2011:
@anonymous: Yes, that is correct because you are using it in a comparative statement. You are saying that it is going to get worse that the current situation.
anonymous on August 29, 2011:
what about: "it wont get better before it gets worse" .is this correct??
GrowWear on August 05, 2011:
Have seen much confusion with worse and worst. This should be a real help for folks.