Word War: Compare To vs Compare With

When you point out the similarities of two or more objects, do you say compare to or compare with? Prepositions have always been the bane of second language speakers of English; a simple change of preposition in a sentence can change the entire meaning of the message. In this installment of Word War, we are going to discuss the difference in meaning between the two expressions. So when do we use compare to and compare with?

To compare something to something else is to observe or point only to likenesses between them. In other words, you are likening one thing to another, or you are making a comment about their similarities. The phrase compared to is used when the intent is to assert, without the need for elaboration, that two or more items are similar.

He compared his writing to that of Oscar Wilde.
People compare his activism to that of Martin Luther King Jr.

Another notable use of compare to is when comparing two objects regarded as essentially of a different order of category.

He always compares his life to that of a blockbuster movie.
The locals have compared their living conditions to a lifelong battle against equality.

To compare something with something else is to place the items side by side, noting differences and similarities between them. The phrase compare with is used to juxtapose two or more items to illustrate similarities or differences or both.

People consider cats to be less maintenance pets compared with dogs.
I find ramen more satisfying compared with pho.

Other style guidelines, such as the AP Handbook, note that compare with is mainly used to point out differences between objects regarded as essentially of the same order.

Life in Paris is notably different compared with that in the Philippines.
Let us compare Shakespeare’s sonnet with Spencer’s works.

In informal speech, however, these expressions are normally interchangeable. At the same time, if you want to adhere to the nuances of formal writing and speech, compare to is used to express similarities between the objects being compared, while compare with is used more often to express the differences between the objects being compared.

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