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Comparisons of Equality

Using 'Tan' and 'Tanto'

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No tengo tantas preguntas como antes. (I don't have as many questions as before.)

Photo by Martin Pettitt; licensed via Creative Commons.

Probably the most common way that Spanish uses to indicate that two people or things are equally a certain way is to use the phrase "tan ... como" where the ellipsis (three periods) is replaced by an adjective. The phrase is the equivalent of the English phrase "as ... as."

A few examples:

  • Diego es tan alto como Pedro. (James is as tall as Peter.)
  • Eres tan inteligente como cualquier hombre. (You are as intelligent as any man.)
  • Cervantes es tan conocido como Shakespeare. (Cervantes is as well-known as Shakespeare.)
  • No estoy tan feliz como me gustaría. (I am not as happy as I would like to be.)

Such comparisons are known as comparisons of equality. Note how they are both similar to and different than expressions of inequality, such as "Diego es más alto que Pedro" (James is taller than Peter).

Comparisons of equality using tan are similar when adverbs are used to indicate the way in which things are done:

  • La cerveza puede afectarle tan rápidamente como el vino. (Beer can affect you as quickly as wine.)
  • Las infopistas transformarán nuestra cultura tan poderosamente como la imprenta de Gutenberg transformó los tiempos medievales. (The information highway will transform our culture as powerfully as Gutenberg's printing press transformed medieval times.)

A similar sentence structure is used when a noun is used in the comparison. In such cases, however, a form of tanto, an adjective, is used, and it must agree in number and gender with the noun referred to. (Tan is an adverb.) A few examples:

  • El país exporta tantos dólares como importa. (The country exports as many dollars as it imports.)
  • La experiencia tiene tanta importancia como el conocimiento de libros. (Experience has as much importance as book knowledge.)
  • Nada tiene tanto éxito como él. (Nobody has as much success as he.)
  • No tengo tantas preguntas como antes. (I don't have as many questions as before.)

The similar construction of tanto como can also be used to mean "as much as." Note that this form of tanto is an invariable adverb; it doesn't change form to agree with words around it:

  • Nadie había hecho tanto como mi padre. (No one has done as much as my father.)
  • Dormir poco disminuye el rendimiento tanto como el alcohol. (Lack of sleep reduces performance as much as alcohol.)
  • Tienen un lado bueno tanto como uno malo. (They have a good side as much as a bad side.)

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