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‘Compared to’ or ‘compared with’

They look and sound like they’re interchangeable, right? 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 (like making goals), and some that tickle the surface of what we do (like proofreading), 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 not much separating the two. Most people probably wouldn’t notice you’d used the ‘wrong’ one, and it’s certainly not something they’d pull you up or call you out on.

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

 

Compare and contrast

OK, so as you probably know, to and with are prepositions. Moreover, they are both prepositions that can be used following the verb, compare. Both are correct when thus used, but they aren’t necessarily interchangeable.

To, for example, is generally used when the similarity between two things is the point of the comparison, and to compare means to liken. For example, ‘We hesitate to compare our own writing to that of someone like 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 being compared are the most important factor of the comparison. 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 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.

 

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.

 

Or drop us a message, and we’ll make sure your documents are perfect.

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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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