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Compare to vs. Compare with

September 2008
Spot the Error

The company reported a net loss of $31 million for the first quarter of 2008 compared to a net gain of $42 million in the first quarter of 2007.

Frequently misused, compare to is not interchangeable with compare with. Compare to is used when identifying similarities between things in order to place them in the same category. Example:

The wizened, old man commented that youth is fleeting, and he compared it to the blink of an eye.

In the example, the old man is figuratively grouping things that pass quickly—the blink of an eye and youth—therefore, compare to is appropriate.

In the opening financial sentence, however, compare with is required. Compare with is used when placing items side by side to examine their differences and similarities. Because compare with is the more literal of the two phrases, it’s used far more often than compare to.

When you think of compare to, think of Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18” that begins, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” And save to for those comparisons that are abstract, figurative, or poetic.

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