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Due to a question on another stackexchange site, I learned an interesting fact about the Spanish language.

The statement is that if you compare two things like "A is better than B" then both A and B are considered good. That is, in the following sentence both you and my friend are considered intelligent.

Mi amiga es más inteligente que tú.

Provided this is true (which has been confirmed by a friend of mine who speaks Spanish as a native speaker but is not from Spain), in conclusion, however, this means that you cannot compare two things that are opposing. For instance, a dull person and a highly intelligent person are not comparable.

Let's take another example with a very obvious answer. Who is better in playing football? You or Messi?.

Obvio que Messi.

From what I understood, by comparing yourself with Messi you implicitly say: I am a very good football player.
In the likely case you're not playing in the Primera or Segunda División, I'm confident that this is not true; thus, you cannot compare yourself with Messi and, instead, you had to tell me that you can't compare apples and oranges.
But again, the answer is to this question is actually obvious. Messi is better than you.

My questions are:
1. Is the initial statement entirely true in respect to the Spanish language or do you see the possibility to compare two opposing things though?
2. If the answer to Q1 is that the statement is entirely true, then how do you compare two opposing things with regard to a) make clear they are opposing and therefore not comparable but b) also give the obvious answer?


Addition

Based on Gorpik's answer, I'd like to add some further notes why I am surprised about this:
I cannot see why two things must be very similar to be comparable. I mean, it's obvious that you cannot answer the question Who's better Messi or Kobe Bryant?, for the reason they play different games. But you can answer the question: Who's better in playing football? Messi or Kobe Bryant?.
In my opinion, it is not critical whether or not a question is meaningful or sensible in respect to being an answerable question.

Yet another example. You go shopping with a friend and he/she tries two trousers that they like. You, however, think that one of those trousers looks terrible, while the other is really cool. If your friend asks you, which trousers you consider more beautiful (in the sense of which suits him/her more), what will your answer be?

Again, it's not clear to me why two things must be equally fine to be comparable. Is respect to this, is there a lack of feature in the Spanish language or is the statement above not true?


  • Note, I do not speak Spanish at all.
  • I actually want to tag this questions with "comparación" which does not exist yet (and I am not allowed to create yet).
share|improve this question
    
It would be interesting a link to that discussion :) –  JoulSauron Aug 23 '13 at 11:03
    
@JoulSauron There's no discussion. It was mentioned in a question about the German language. As a native German speaker, I feel the question very weird at first glance and that made up my question here. –  Em1 Aug 23 '13 at 11:05
    
Answering your edit: it is not really a limitation of the language (as I said in my answer, technically a comparison does not need the compared objects to be close in rank), but a cultural perception. In the trousers example, for example, you would probably be polite and just say that you like the second pair better, which is strictly true. –  Gorpik Aug 23 '13 at 12:02
    
I fail to see how this is specific to Spanish. –  leonbloy Aug 23 '13 at 16:14
2  
This may be scemantis, but in English you also cannot compare opposites; you can only contrast them. Which is what your statements actually do. "My friend is more intelligent than you" is actually a statement of contrast, not of comparison. –  Flimzy Aug 23 '13 at 21:08

1 Answer 1

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Your initial statement is not entirely true, though it almost is. The sentence Messi es mejor futbolista que yo is strictly true, but you would get funny looks if you said that. The reason is that the comparison implies that both terms are, well, comparable.

This nearly answers your second question. Why would you need to compare two things when they are obviously beyond comparison? Anyway, in Spanish you could use a construct which has an English equivalent:

  • Are you a good football player?
  • Well, I am no Messi, but I can kick the ball.

In Spanish:

  • ¿Juegas bien al fútbol?
  • Bueno, no soy Messi, pero sé darle al balón.

You are saying that you are good for an amateur player, but are far from being a star player.

share|improve this answer
    
I see. This is possible in my mother-tongue as well. And admittedly, in such a clear situation also the most likely answer. +1 for this catch. –  Em1 Aug 23 '13 at 11:15
    
In any case, there's nothing in the Spanish language forbidding you to make impossible or nonsensical comparisons. It's just that they will be regarded as such. "Este viento es muy verde" is perfectly legal Spanish. –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Apr 8 at 15:44

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