‘Compare to’ vs. ‘compare with’ in English

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more (PDF Version).

Some authors claim that “compare to” and “compare with” mean essentially the same, but this is not supported by actual data. The verb compare has several different meanings, some of which take the preposition “to”, while the others take “with”:

compare A to B = to claim that A and B are similar

For example,

Football experts compare him to the legendary Pelé.

means that football experts claim there are many similarities between the footballer in question and Pelé (with the implied meaning that he is as good as Pelé). The similarities shared don’t always have to be positive:

Stalinism has been compared to Fascism.

Here the implied meaning is not only that Stalinism is similar to Fascism, but also that Stalinism is as bad as Fascism.

In the sense described above, only compare to is used. Compare with expresses a different concept:

compare A with B = to assess the similarities and differences between A and B

For example,

I compared the performance of my computer with yours, and I must say, your computer is much better than mine.
Investigators compared his fingerprints with those found at the crime scene and found out they didn’t match.

When “compare” is used in this sense, it is possible to say “and” instead of “with”, as in

I compared the performance of my computer and yours, and your computer turned out to be better.

This is not possible with “compare to”; “experts compare him and the legendary Pelé” simply doesn’t work.

However, when passively contrasting two things or figures, both compared to and compared with are common. For example:

My computer is really bad, compared to/with yours.
My Facebook page has 6,000 subscribers, compared to/with 2,500 it had a year ago.

Technically speaking, only “compared with” makes sense (since you are comparing something with something else, not to something else), but the fact is, “compared to” is several times more common than “compared with” in English literature.

By the way, if you haven’t read my guide on how to avoid the most common mistakes in English, make sure to check it out; it deals with similar topics.

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