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‘Compared to’ or ‘compared with’

They look and sound like they’re interchangeable, right? Well, what if we told you there were subtle differences in meaning when using either ‘to’ or ‘with’ to make a comparison? Let Comma Chameleon blow your mind…

Compare to or compare with, that's the question.

We realised the other day that, although we’ve done a fair few blogs about running a business (such as how to set goals), and some that tickle the surface of what we do (like proofreading and content creation), we haven’t really put finger to keyboard about anything that shows off that we might, in fact, know what we’re doing.

But we do. Really.

So let’s remedy that. Let’s talk about one of the most-often confused usages we come across in our proofreading and editing duties: ‘compared to’ versus ‘compared with’.

We say ‘confused usages’ because, let’s face it, there’s ostensibly not much separating the two. ‘To’ and ‘with’ are both teeny words. Most people probably wouldn’t notice if you used the ‘wrong’ one in the wrong context, and to be honest, there aren’t many people who would pull you up on it even if they did notice. Because it’s not a massive deal, really.

But there genuinely are slight differences in meaning, and there’s no harm in laying them out bare, right?

 

Compare and contrast

OK, so as you probably know, to and with are both prepositions – that is to say, they are both words that describe where or when something is in relation to something else. What’s more, to and with are both prepositions that can be used following the verb, compare. So we can compare to and we can compare with. Both usages are correct, but they aren’t necessarily interchangeable. That’s because there are differences in meaning between the two.

To, for example, is generally used when the similarity between two things is the point of the comparison. To compare to, then, means ‘to liken’. An example of this might be: ‘We hesitate to compare [liken] our own writing to that of Dostoyevsky.’

 

as a general rule of thumb, if the differences between the things being compared are important, use with. If the similarities are the focus, use to.

 

With, on the other hand, is used when the differences between the two things are the most important factor of the comparison. In this situation, to compare with means ‘to contrast’. For example:  ‘We compared the technicality of Comma Chameleon’s explanations with those of the Oxford Dictionary, and they came up lacking.’

 

A simple, straightforward way to remember the difference in meaning.

 

When compare is used intransitively (i.e. there’s no object involved and it’s left hanging as a standalone), it should be followed by with. That’s because, in these instances, it’s generally the differences that are being highlighted. For example, ‘Their output simply cannot compare with ours.’

So, as a general rule of thumb, if the differences between the things being compared are important, use with. If the similarities are the focus, use to.

And there you have it.

Read further

If you want a more thorough examination of the various uses – such as when introducing subordinate clauses or using the past participle ‘compared’ – check out Oxford University Press’s explanations. They’ve bossed it.

And for more grammar tips, see our other blog posts:

Historic or historical? When to use which one

Looks like… Sounds like: Homophones, homonyms and homographs

Degree adverbs: what they are and why they are falling out of favour

How to proofread your emails

 

Leave it to the pros

And if you want to make sure you’ve got all your word use and grammar absolutely nailed, why not let us proofread your document for you? We’ve got decades of experience and would love to help. Just drop us a message, and we’ll make sure your wording is perfect.

Cheers!

The Comma Chameleon team

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About Comma Chameleon

Comma Chameleon is a Manchester-based team of copywriters, editors and proofreaders, with decades of experience. We work with clients throughout the UK to bring colour to content and clarity to messages, no matter the size, format or platform. We simply love words, whether they’re yours or ours.

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