Worse vs. Worst

Updated on January 8, 2019
Wendy Leanne profile image

I'm a certified English teacher who used to teach sophomore English before becoming a full-time mom.

Which is right: Worse or worst?
Which is right: Worse or 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.

What does "worse" mean? What does "worst" mean?
What does "worse" mean? What does "worst" mean?

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!

Test Your Understanding With a Quick Quiz

view quiz statistics
Is it "worst for worst" or "worse for worse"?! Since it's a comparison, you'd use "worse."
Is it "worst for worst" or "worse for worse"?! Since it's a comparison, you'd use "worse."

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."

  • "Worst case."

    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!

Questions & Answers

    © 2011 Wendy Leanne

    What do you think? How do you remember to use these words correctly?

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      • profile image

        David 

        4 months ago

        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.

        Thanks

      • profile image

        Madan kumar, Chennai, India. 

        9 months ago

        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..

      • profile image

        GalaxyRat 

        2 years ago

        Worst and worse sound and look strange when you think about it. :D

      • profile image

        Andrea 

        3 years ago

        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.

      • Maria Antonia profile image

        Antoinette Lee Toscano 

        3 years ago from Raleigh, NC

        This was so helpful thank you. I'm a new fan.

      • profile image

        Lynn Klobuchar 

        5 years ago

        Thank you! It helps to hear someone else explain it.

      • norma-holt profile image

        norma-holt 

        5 years ago

        Great leans. I needed to check on the difference between these words for something I am writing and came across this lens. Good work.

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        5 years ago

        Thanks for answering my Worse vs. Worst questions! That dang English language gets you every now and again!

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        5 years ago

        Totally awesome... Thank you!

      • geosum profile image

        geosum 

        6 years ago

        Good one.

      • WordChipper profile image

        WordChipper 

        6 years ago

        Shoot... 2/3 guess I better practise my english gooder before it gets worst. LOL

      • suepogson profile image

        suepogson 

        6 years ago

        Very clear - thanks

      • Wedding Mom profile image

        Wedding Mom 

        6 years ago

        3 out of 3. Nice lens! Very informative.

      • Wendy Leanne profile imageAUTHOR

        Wendy Leanne 

        6 years ago from Texas

        @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.

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        6 years ago

        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.

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        6 years ago

        My mom would have been the worse cook if there were only two cooks

      • Digory LM profile image

        Digory LM 

        6 years ago

        The stress from these squid-quizzes are the worst! Not really. Nice lens.

      • LisaAuch1 profile image

        Lisa Auch 

        6 years ago from Scotland

        cough...think I need to study a bit more !

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        6 years ago

        Yes that was really clear. Thanks.

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        6 years ago

        yes. thanks a lot!

      • siobhanryan profile image

        siobhanryan 

        6 years ago

        Blessed-unique idea for a lens

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        6 years ago

        Thank you for this article- very informational. Worthy to read.

      • Squidviews profile image

        Squidviews 

        6 years ago

        The worst one that I see all the time is people mixing up then and than, can't get worse than that. LOL

        AJ

      • Wendy Leanne profile imageAUTHOR

        Wendy Leanne 

        6 years ago from Texas

        @bskcom: Ha! That might not go over well at all, but it sure would be grammatically correct! =)

      • ecogranny profile image

        Kathryn Grace 

        6 years ago from San Francisco

        You have done an excellent job explaining the difference between worse and worst.

      • profile image

        bskcom 

        6 years ago

        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. :)

      • Lady Lorelei profile image

        Lorelei Cohen 

        6 years ago from Canada

        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.

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        6 years ago

        Very helpful, thank you.

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        6 years ago

        Great Article

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        6 years ago

        Awesome info and they really make sure you get the point

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        6 years ago

        Crystal Clear! ^_^

      • Aster56 profile image

        Aster56 

        6 years ago

        Good test.

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        6 years ago

        certainly it helps!!! thank u!!!

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        6 years ago

        You are awesome! Thank you!

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        6 years ago

        You are awesome! Thank you!

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        6 years ago

        Thank you, English is my second language and this was very helpful

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        6 years ago

        Yes! Thanks!

      • Ninuzza profile image

        Ninuzza 

        7 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

        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 profile image

        Virginia Allum LM 

        7 years ago

        Nice lens. Good resource for teachers to give students to use at home.

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        7 years ago

        Great! Thanks.

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        7 years ago

        Very impressed; that was an excellent explanation. The examples and the questions were also quite helpful.

      • BestRatedStuff profile image

        BestRatedStuff 

        7 years ago

        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.

      • profile image

        PaulRyan 

        7 years ago

        :) 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!

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        7 years ago

        That was great! Thx

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        7 years ago

        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.

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        7 years ago

        I get it now...

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        7 years ago

        It was great! TY

      • indigoj profile image

        Indigo Janson 

        7 years ago from UK

        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!" ;)

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        7 years ago

        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.

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        7 years ago

        This was very helpful, thank-you.

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        7 years ago

        Thank you, this lesson was really very well explain. I will never forget the difference worse vs worst !!!

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        7 years ago

        Thanks for sharing with us this explanation. It was just great. I will remember this lesson always ;)

      • chezchazz profile image

        Chazz 

        7 years ago from New York

        Thanks for a great lens that addresses one of the worst grammar mistakes on my pet peeves list.

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        7 years ago

        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!

      • favored profile image

        Fay Favored 

        7 years ago from USA

        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 profile image

        WayneDave LM 

        7 years ago

        It is pretty easy really! Nice lens though, thanks for sharing.

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        7 years ago

        Nice one. Squidoo is helpful I also like http://www.squidoo.com/teach-your-children-english

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        7 years ago

        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!

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        7 years ago

        Ahhhh....100%!

      • spartakct profile image

        spartakct 

        7 years ago

        Nice lens!

      • TreasuresBrenda profile image

        Treasures By Brenda 

        7 years ago from Canada

        Yikes, another English teacher...nicely done resource page.

      • Wendy Leanne profile imageAUTHOR

        Wendy Leanne 

        7 years ago from Texas

        @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. =)

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        7 years ago

        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 profile image

        Johanna Eisler 

        7 years ago

        Excellent explanation. :) Three cheers for grammar lenses! (Also spelling lenses - are there any? Think I'll go check.)

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        7 years ago

        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 profile imageAUTHOR

        Wendy Leanne 

        7 years ago from Texas

        @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.

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        7 years ago

        what about: "it wont get better before it gets worse" .is this correct??

      • profile image

        GrowWear 

        7 years ago

        Have seen much confusion with worse and worst. This should be a real help for folks.

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