Column: Compare to or with?


Question: “I remember the imply/infer difference from an episode of “All in the Family.” Gloria is feeling intellectually inadequate relative to her over-educated husband, Meathead. She misuses one of the words (I don’t remember which), and Meathead corrects her with something like, “Gloria, the speaker implies, the listener infers,” which only makes matters worse. Other possible column topics, if you haven’t done them already: compare with/to; comprises/is comprised of; myriad/a myriad. Thanks.” – (John Reichmann, Westfield)

Answer: See now, who says you can’t learn anything from TV?

John actually offered up a whole list of topics but, in case there are any challengers to the Grammar Guy throne, I’ve elected to keep most of them in my vault for now. Today we’ll be looking at when to use “to” or “with” after “compare.”

“Compare” is a verb used to point out the similarities or differences between two or more things. You’re probably familiar with the phrase “comparing apples to oranges,” which is used to suggest someone is drawing a false parallel between two subjects. In that phrase we use “compare to.” Let’s find out why.

The Oxford English Dictionary has this to say on the matter: “Traditionally, ‘compare to’ is used when similarities are noted in dissimilar things. To ‘compare with’ is to look for either differences or similarities, usually in similar things.”

Pretty straightforward, as far as grammar rules go.

The dictionary does go on to note that “in practice, however, this distinction is rarely maintained.” We can change that, though! Grammarians, brandish your pens and uphold the language wherever you travel! Or, you know, just let it go and don’t be that guy (or girl).