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Editing Tips - Word Usage

By Mary Embree

Compare to or compare with?

“Traditionally, compare to is used when similarities are noted in dissimilar things: He compares life to a box of chocolates.

To compare with is to look for either differences or similarities, usually in similar things: Let’s compare the movie with the book on which it was based.

In practice, however, this distinction is rarely maintained.” From The Oxford American Dictionary of Current English (1999).

Contrast to or contrast with?

Often, contrast is used without either word following it. “Contrast means to compare in order to show unlikeness or differences, note the opposite natures, purposes, etc., of: Contrast the political rights of Romans and Greeks.”

An example of contrast to is: “The weather down here is a welcome contrast to what we’re having back home.” From Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary (1996).

According to The Oxford Dictionary, contrast is often followed by to when it means a thing or person having qualities noticeably different from another.

When it means the change of apparent brightness or color of an object caused by the juxtaposition of other objects, it is often followed by with.

The Oxford explains that contrast means “note the differences.” Compare, though, means “note the similarities.”

© 2001 by Mary Embree

—Mary Embree is Founder of SPAWN and author of The Author’s Toolkit: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Book. Mary can be reached at



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