I have just learned that there are some adjectives with optional umlaut-ification (e.g. rot) as opposed to required or prohibited (in comparatives and superlatives).

So... is there some general sense of the optional effect? Like is the decision to use the optional umlaut more old-fashioned or formal or more regionally a trait? [I am trying to make sure I don't lose my Kinderaustrian, in the course of learning German. ;)]

FWIW, below site says that it is unusual to decide for the optional umlaut. So is it OK, if I just ignore them in my own writing, speaking? Just knowing they are out there in some texts, speech, for recognition?


  • As they are optional, it is ok to ignore them by definition ;) That said, it depends - and they are rare to begin with. Your example of 'rot' - how often do you really need the comparative of a color?
    – Hulk
    Commented Aug 13, 2023 at 20:18
  • I could imagine saying redder. In any case, the list of words contains several, which would be quite normal as comparatives (see list in the link I gave).
    – Ami guest
    Commented Aug 13, 2023 at 23:10
  • Plus I'm still curious what determines the tendency to use them in option situations. Is it old fashioned? Regional?
    – Ami guest
    Commented Aug 13, 2023 at 23:11
  • Whiter shade of pale is a phrase in English. youtube.com/watch?v=CJxpKlTID2Q So, I could see saying about a redhead buddy who doesn't take it the wrong way...or a gal I'm chatting up, that she's redder than others (or even the reddest!)
    – Ami guest
    Commented Aug 15, 2023 at 15:33

2 Answers 2

  1. There is no difference in meaning between the versions that add an Umlaut and those that don't.
  2. There is also, likely, no difference in register between the two versions.
  3. There may be a bit more of a tendency to use the Umlaut versions in the southern half of German-speaking regions (These dialects tend to add Umlauts in a lot of other cases as well).

As with just about every optional part of the language, it's your choice whether you want to actively use the Umlaut versions. Remember, however, that learning German may provide you with lots more challenges to master than this relatively minor details. Don't be surprised when you come across them, but I would, depending on your level of mastership of the language, just ignore them.

  • I have a bazillion challenges with the language. Feeling pretty good about my progress though. Usually I give up. But have been at self study for several weeks now.
    – Ami guest
    Commented Aug 14, 2023 at 13:47
  • I prioritize speech (but already have a good accent), then reading (children's books, just for immersion, not for every word knowing), then vocabulary study, then grammar. This makes me less likely to give up. In English, we say "perfect is the enemy of better". This was really just a one off curious question that I thought was worth outsourcing. Seems like people like talking about nuance of language. But, yeah...I got a butt-ton of normal things to learn!
    – Ami guest
    Commented Aug 14, 2023 at 13:47
  • It's Das Bessere ist des Guten Feind. in German. Allegedly from Italian Il meglio è l'inimico del bene and made popular by Voltaire.
    – Janka
    Commented Aug 14, 2023 at 15:28
  • Ach so... youtube.com/watch?v=wcQj8Ey9SsY ;-)
    – Ami guest
    Commented Aug 14, 2023 at 16:20

As an Austrian native speaker, I'd opt for the Umlaut in most of these examples. Most definitely for 'schmäler'.

That said, I wouldn't be surprised if other native speakers choose differently, or express uncertainty in how to form the comparative correctly.

Many of these comparatives are rarely used in day to day conversation, and there are often alternatives. There are specific names for many colors, and being wet is often considered an absolute state. Still, the comparative exists, if only to be able to say

Nässer kann ich ohnehin nicht mehr werden.

Something that is not completly wet is either only 'feucht' (moist/damp), or only some parts are wet, etc.

  • Thanks, man. I could see saying this cloth is wetter than that cloth. (Or same with people, animals, etc.)
    – Ami guest
    Commented Aug 15, 2023 at 0:05

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