Understanding the English Language


Recently I was preparing a blog post and was undecided on the use of the words “with” and “to” when I was comparing two different options.  I went to Google to ask for help, but still could not reach a definitive linguistic decision.

I found the following examples, but still they are not clear to me as to the correct usage of both words:

Should I write “compared to previous years” or “compared with previous years” or doesn’t it matter? Here is what three popular handbooks have to say on the matter.

Strunk and White (The Elements of Style) Handbook:

a.  To compare to is to point out or imply resemblances between objects regarded as essentially of a different order;

b.  To compare with is mainly to point out differences between objects regarded as essentially of the same order.

c.  Thus, life has been compared to a pilgrimage, to a drama, to a battle; Congress may be compared with the British Parliament. Paris has been compared to ancient Athens; it may be compared with modern London.

AP Stylebook:

a.  Use compared to when the intent is to assert, without the need for elaboration, that two or more items are similar: She compared her work for women’s rights to Susan B. Anthony’s campaign for women’s suffrage.

b.  Use compared with when juxtaposing two or more items to illustrate similarities and/or differences: His time was 2:11:10 compared with 2:14 for his closest competitor.

Penguin Writer’s Manual:

a.  Both prepositions, to and with, can be used following compare. Neither is more correct than the other, but a slight distinction can be made in meaning.

b.  To has traditionally been preferred when the similarity between two things is the point of the comparison and compare means ‘liken’: I hesitate to compare my own works to those of someone like Dickens.

c.  With, on the other hand, suggests that the differences between two things are as important as, if not more important than, the similarities: We compared the facilities available to most city-dwellers with those available to people living in the country; to compare like with like.

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

As much as I’ve tried to understand the proper usage of both terms, I still can’t decide on what word to use.  Finally, after a long meditation, I decided to guess the wording—eeny, meeny, miny moe.  Readers will decide whether English was correctly used or not.  Ahead of time, I apologize if I make a mistake while making a comparison in future blogs posts.  I told you, English was a tough cookie.  Good Day.

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6 thoughts on “Understanding the English Language”

  1. This is the way I see it: Compared to – use when two things are alike; Compared with – use to place two things side by side to examine differences and similarities. There is quite a bit of what I call “verbiage” in your descriptions making them difficult to understand even for me a native language speaker.

    Thank you for pointing out how difficult learning English can be. I’ll remember that when I start ranting about how difficult learning Spanish is. I am grateful most Panameños are very helpful and forgiving when I butcher their language! The other day one of my little English students quietly whispered “de” when I said “cerca” instead of “cerca de”. 🙂

    1. I’ve been studying English since I was six, and still I feel as if I’m going backwards instead of forward. I study as hard as I can, but it refuses to sink in. Anyway I keep hanging in. I’m 67, but still positive someday I will crack the nut.

      Best of luck with your forays into the Spanish language. Easy as pie.

      I loved your explanation a lot better than the handbooks I mentioned in my post. Wrote it down in my agenda for future reference. Thanks a bunch.

      Bye,

      Omar.-

  2. Oh, my. I was nearly exhausted by the time I worked my way through all that!

    To be honest, I’ve never pondered the correct usage of “with” and “to.” If I were to guess, I’d say I use “with” to compare things which are similar, and “to” for things that are not. For example:

    She thought London compared favorably with Paris.

    He looked at the fields of grain and compared them to ocean waves.

    That’s pretty close to what Strunk and White says. I confess I’ve never thought about the issue, and am fairly certain none of your readers is going criticize your choice, whatever it is. 😉

  3. Hi Omar,

    My wife is a professional marketing writer with a journalism degree, and apprenticeship with her family newspaper business.

    You can go either way..it is a matter of “feel.” She agrees there is a subtle difference as stated by the Penguin Writer’s Manual. But the majority of the time they are basically interchangeable.

    There is your “with or to” comment form the peanut gallery!

    Now go out and take some more great photos!

    Cheers,

    John & Susan

  4. John & Susan,

    Thank you for making me feel more relieved on the usage of said terms. There will be a cute picture waiting for you tomorrow after 4:00 a.m. in case you’re up that early on a Sunday morning. 🙂

    Regards,

    Omar.-

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