Compare and Contrast

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Jay asks

“Compare with” = contrast; What are the circumstances by which one would use contrast as the verb instead?

In general use, such as in writing a “compare/contrast” essay, compare means “find the similarities” and contrast means “find the differences.”

Definitions from the OED:

compare:. trans. To speak of or represent as similar; to liken.

contrast: To set in opposition … in order to show strikingly their different qualities or characteristics, and compare their superiorities or defects.

Compare derives from Latin comparare “to liken, to compare.” Contrast derives from Latin contra, “against” plus stare, “to stand.” In Middle English the word was used in the literal sense “to withstand” or “fight against” as in battle. The word fell out of use until the end of the 17th century when it was reintroduced as an art term meaning

to place in such juxtaposition as to bring strongly out differences of form, colour, etc., and thus to produce a striking effect.

For differences in meaning between compare to and compare with, see Compared “to” or Compared “with”.

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5 thoughts on “Compare and Contrast”

  1. Useful new information, in both articles. But I am puzzled by one line in the older article about the difference between compare to and compare with. You wrote:

    “When compare is used intransitively it should be followed by with: Our output simply cannot compare with theirs.”

    Why is that intransitive? Isn’t “their[s] (output)” the object of the verb compare? I do see that my deskside dictionary gives a definition (but, regrettably, no example) for compare as an intransitive verb, and I can’t think of another sentence structure that would be clearly intransitive. So, what is the grammatical function of “theirs” in that sentence?

  2. @Kathryn
    In the sentence

    Our output simply cannot compare with theirs.

    “theirs” is the object of the preposition “with.” The verb “cannot compare” has no object.

  3. Ah!. OK, now I feel fairly stupid. My problem is that a lifetime of reading good fiction (and having it read to me before I was old enough to indulge myself) has left me with fairly good instincts for what is grammatically correct, but not much depth of understanding of why it should be so. Which is why I love this blog. I hadn’t really realized about objects of prepositions, so that’s a useful bit of knowledge. Thanks!

  4. i am a writer, i love to write i feel its the only way i can express mself, no one could ever percieve things the way i do and with the really horrible things i’ve been through in life, no one will ever understand… at least they will never understand the horror ir live thru it like i did. i AM m beautifull depression, and i fought and made it through the storm. but i want to express mself. i like to write songs. i have been having trouble latel and need some advice. email me and hit me up. give me some advice please. and i will greatly appriciate it. and even if theres any writrers out there and would be wiling to hear m stories, and help me write i would love that lol.. thanxxxx

  5. Is this a “compare/contrast” essay question?
    “There are a lot of disadvantages from air pollution and it is increasing day by day. Why is it improtant to take steps in controlling air pollution?”

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