Copy Editor’s Corner | Dare to compare, correctly
What’s the difference between “compare with” and “compare to,” anyway? Let’s compare the two phrases.
According to The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, “To compare to is to point out or imply resemblances between objects regarded as essentially of a different order; to compare with is mainly to point out differences between objects regarded as essentially of the same order.”
And The Associated Press Stylebook offers this example: “She compared her work for women’s rights to Susan B. Anthony’s campaign for women’s suffrage.”
To simplify both entries from these style gods, use “compared with” to point out a difference and “compared to” to point out a similarity. It’s much likelier that you’ll use “compared with” in a piece than “compared to.”
Now, the bigger question may be whether it matters if you use the right one, and who will notice other than proofreaders, copy editors, and a handful of other grammar enthusiasts. The answer may be no one — so should you still make sure you use the right one?
Why not? These two phrases are so similar that it’s not as though one is stuffy and academic and the other is what all the kids are saying nowadays. It pays to be right, because you never know who might be reading.