Worse or Worst: What’s the Difference?

Most of the confusion that writers face in English has to do with homophones: words that sound alike when spoken but have different meanings and spellings.

Today, however, we are dealing with a different concept: comparative and superlative adjectives. If you’re not sure what these terms mean, don’t worry. I’ll explain everything in detail below.

What is the Difference Between Worse and Worst?

In this post, I want to talk about worse vs. worst. I will use both words in example sentences and outline exactly when to use each word.

After reading this post, you won’t ever again second-guess yourself by saying, “Should I use worse or worst?”

When to Use Worse

What does worse mean? Worse is defined as of lower quality or a lower standard.

Worse is what is known as a comparative adjective. A comparative adjective is used to compare two things with each other. For example,

  • The food was worse than the service.
  • These headphones are worse than my old ones.
  • He will look to exploit a Giants secondary that figures to be even worse than it was last season. –New York Times
  • The strain looks to be a little bit worse than initially diagnosed. –Oakland Press

if worse comes to worst or worst comes to worstAs you can see in each of the above examples, worse is being used to compare two different things. In other words, something is worse than something else. That is how comparative adjectives work.

When to Use Worst

What does worst mean? Worst is defined as of the lowest quality or the lowest standard.

Worst is what is known as a superlative adjective. A superlative adjective is used when you compare three or more things with one another. For example,

  • Out of Steve, Bill, and Joe, Steve has the worst score.
  • This was the worst speech the president has ever made.
  • An index of REIT stocks is on track for its worst year since 2008 after a six-year rally pushed it up 348%, including dividends, from its financial-crisis-era low, as of Friday’s close. –The Wall Street Journal
  • Under Will Muschamp, the Gators only had one 1,000-yard rusher (Mike Gillislee in 2012) and the running backs struggled in an offense that ranked among the worst in the country. –Orlando Sentinel

bad worse worst dictionary in EnglishAs you can see in each of the above examples, worst is used to compare three or more things. If something is of the lowest quality in a group, it is said to be the worst.

Superlative adjectives can be thought of as the most extreme descriptors. They are super!

Ordering of Worse, Worst

how to use comparative and superlative grammarWorse and worst are irregular comparative and superlative adjectives, which means they don’t follow the typical pattern.

Most comparatives/superlatives look something like this, Large > Larger > Largest. Simply adding an “er” makes the comparative, and adding the “est” makes the superlative.

Worse and worst are irregular, however, so their ordering goes like this, Bad > Worse > Worst.

Then on the opposite end of the spectrum you have, Good > Better > Best (also irregular).

Worse Case or Worst Case?

How exactly does the popular phrase go? Is it a worse case scenario or a worst-case scenario?

The correct usage would be worst-case scenario. A worst-case scenario is characterized by the worst of the possible foreseeable circumstances. It is the most extreme scenario.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Here’s a good trick to remember when to use worst or worse.

Worst is the least good option. If you are presented with a list of things to do, whatever is worst is the thing you would want to do least. Worst and least both end in “st.”

You could also think of it as being the most extreme (in the case of a storm or natural disaster). Worst and most both end in “st.”

Summary

Worst vs. worse are an example of irregular comparative and superlative adjectives.

Worse describes something that is of lower quality than something else. It is used to compare two things with each other.

Worst describes something that is of the lowest quality of a group of three of more things.