Compare to or compare with?

The engine room is not here to teach English but I really, really wish the writers in our care would get the message that there's a rule governing the preposition that follows the word "compare", and it's this: if you're comparing two things to show that they are similar you say "compare to". If you're comparing two things to show they differ you say "compare with".

The usual reference for this one is Shakespeare's phrase: "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day".

It's easy. But after repeated reminders some of our charges simply can't get their heads round it. Anyway, I do feel better for getting it off my chest – which is what this blog is really about... stress relief for knackered subs!


JD (The Engine Room) said...

The way I personally remember this rule is through the phrase 'comparable to' (I would never say 'comparable with' when talking about a similarity, although I suppose this might just be a British English distinction).

Manish said...

The rule above is not entirely correct... you compare "with" items that are similar in nature and compare "to" items that are dissimilar.

JD (The Engine Room) said...

Fowler's Modern English Usage (2nd edition):

"In the sense suggest or state a similarity [compare] is regularly followed by to, not with; in the sense examine or set forth the details of a supposed similarity or estimate its degree, it is regularly followed by with, not to."

Hope this clarifies.