Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Compare to or compare with?

with 5 comments

Title page from Joseph Priestley's Rudiments o...
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Where do I start with this grammatical train crash?

I thought I’d got it clear in my head after reading in some grammar books that ‘compare to’ is correct when comparing things that are similar, and ‘compare with’ is correct when comparing things that are not similar.

Except I’ve also seen at least one grammar book that preaches the exact opposite. And yet another that says  ‘compare to’ is used to compare similarities, while ‘compare with’ is used to highlight both the similarities and differences.

I’ve even read (in one book only) that ‘compare to’ is used to judge one thing against another, while ‘compare with’ is used to judge a smaller or lesser thing against a bigger or greater thing. Work that one out (then, I would advise, ignore it).

So what’s the answer?

Well, in my experience, the majority of grammar books say that ‘compare to’ is correct when comparing things that are similar, and ‘compare with’ is correct when comparing things that are not similar.

Even better…

But to make things even simpler (always preferable in my opinion) the Oxford Dictionary of English says that there is no clear distinction between ‘compare to’ and ‘compare with’ and either can be used in any context. Phew.

Just out of interest, Oxford Dictionaries is not much help on this one.

Commonly confused words and phrases

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Written by Wordwatch

14/12/2009 at 4:16 pm

5 Responses

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  1. We Indians have been sticking to the simpler option!

  2. Very wise indeed!

    Deborah

    14/12/2009 at 4:54 pm

  3. How about using “contrast with” to be very clear (since “contrast” suggests dissimilarity)?

    Michael Farrell

    13/03/2010 at 4:55 pm

    • That’s a very good suggestion, Michael. Thanks!

      Deborah

      13/03/2010 at 5:16 pm

  4. Bryan Garner says that the “compare and contrast” teaching tool is a tautology or redundancy, since “compare with” already covers both.

    Michael Farrell

    14/03/2010 at 12:07 am


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