Worse vs. Worst
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 in writing, you will definitely want to get it right.
"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 see this mistake all the time. Here is how I explained it to my students in easy-to-remember terms so that 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!
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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."
Bad —> Worse —> Worst!
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© 2011 Wendy Leanne