60-second fix: compare to and compare with

bw_clock_squareCompare to is used to describe similarity, while compare with is used for differences as well as similarities. So, for example, while a man may be flattered to be compared to George Clooney, he may not find it quite as pleasant being compared with George Clooney.

Hence Shakespeare mused ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ while Virginia Woolf asked ‘What does the brain matter compared with the heart?’

You probably write about difference, contrast and change more often than you write about similarity, so you’ll more often require compared with.

For example:

The group, which develops intellectual property-based businesses, posted an operating loss of £3.4m in 2011, compared with a profit of £1.8m in 2010.

By October 2011, 86 per cent of all graduates were in work, compared with 72.3 per cent of non-graduates.

The average size of local authorities in Ireland is relatively large compared with other local governments throughout the EU.

The occasions where you’ll want compared to are comparatively rare:

The situation in Iraq has been compared to that of Lebanon.

Current profit levels can be compared to those of 2007.

The new managing director has been compared to Winston Churchill for his focus on the  ‘greater good’.

Confusion over the terms is so widespread that eventually the difference will be lost. But until such time, why not join us in fighting the good fight?

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