Contrast and Stand in Contrast To

By Maeve Maddox

The other morning I read an article about a man who has built a wonderfully detailed scale model of the Sultana, the steamboat that was the object of the greatest maritime disaster in US history.

Note: On April 27, 1865, three of the Sultana’s four boilers exploded, killing nearly 2,000 people. Horrible as it was, the event received very little coverage because it occurred while the national press was occupied with the assassination of Lincoln (April 14) and the search for his assassin. (Booth was captured and killed on April 26.)

Here’s the odd usage that caught my attention:

His [the model-maker’s] attention to the details falls in contrast to the relatively little coverage that newspapers gave the Sultana’s explosion when it happened 150 years ago.

It was the first time I’d encountered the phrase “to fall in contrast to.”

The idiom “to stand in contrast to” is quite common. It means, “is strikingly different from.” For example:

Struggling world economy stands in contrast to U.S.

Detroit tent city stands in stark contrast to resurgent downtown

The expression “stands in contrast to” is well represented on the Google Ngram Viewer, but “falls in contrast” makes no showing at all.

I looked online to see if anyone else was using the strange construction “falls in contrast to.” Sure enough, I found examples:

Clare’s ball dress is a classic example of non-habitual clothing; as she is not used to wearing it, it falls in contrast to her ordinary self through clothing. —2007 book on fashion.

The cheerful, hand-clapping sing-along falls in contrast to the more aggressive new singles from the band…—Music review.

This [humility of the matriarch] falls in contrast to the typical image of the patriarch, whose tool for survival is to consistently appear aggressive and dominating. —Review of True Blood.

I found more examples in a variety of contexts that included fine dining, public transportation, golf equipment, and religious doctrine.

Writers who wish to convey the information that one thing is extremely different from another can do it without using a noun phrase at all. They can use contrast as a verb:

The commissioner’s latest observation that New York needs to hire at least 1,000 more cops contrasts with his earlier statements that 35,000 were enough.

Orange contrasts with blue and harmonizes with red.

Note: The word contrast is pronounced differently according whether it is used as a noun or as a verb. The noun is pronounced with the accent on the first syllable: /KON-trast/. The verb is pronounced with the accent on the second syllable: /kon-TRAST/.

Some of the sentences above can be improved by replacing the “falls in contrast to” with “stands in contrast to” or by using contrast as a verb:

Clare’s ball dress is a classic example of non-habitual clothing; as she is not used to wearing it, it contrasts with her ordinary self through clothing. —2007 book on fashion.

The cheerful, hand-clapping sing-along stands in contrast to the more aggressive new singles from the band…—Music review.

This [humility of the matriarch] contrasts with the typical image of the patriarch, whose tool for survival is to consistently appear aggressive and dominating.

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2 Responses to “Contrast and Stand in Contrast To”

  • Furkles

    Are you sure this phrase is correct:

    “…it contrasts with her ordinary self through clothing.”

    Maybe the author meant:

    “…it contrasts with her ordinary see through clothing.”

    That would be a contrast.

  • Connie

    What if “falls” were replaced with “fails”?

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