Writing in Science: Practical Tips Academic Writing Science Communication
Practical Tips: Compared “with” vs compared “to”
agreement

and/or

apostrophes

article use

British vs American

capitalisation

compare to/with

conjunctions

dates & numbers

dangling participle

eponymic terms

hyphens

-ic vs –ical

italics

jargon

like vs such as

nominalisation

numbers

faulty parallelism

passive voice
prepositions

punctuation

sentence structure

showed

spell check
split infinitives

tense

that vs which

unusual plurals

verbiage

word confusion

 

 

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Shakespeare (1564-1616)

 

Most grammar and writing sources say that both “with” and “to” are correct when used as prepositions after compare, comparable and comparison, and that they can be used interchangeably. However, there can be regional and contextual differences. The general consensus seems to be that most of the time, the slight differences in meaning will go unnoticed by readers.

 

Several things to consider:

1 English is constantly evolving; preferred use 50 or 100 years ago is different from today.

A century ago compared with “was” the more common usage; today it is compared “to” that is more common.

 

2 Experts seem to belong to 2 different schools of use:

CLASSIFICATION DIFFERENCES: Some experts state that use depends on whether one is considering objects essentially similar (or of a similar “classification”) and objects from different “classifications”.

“To” is used to make an analogy; to highlight a likeness between disparate things, while “with” usually refers to objects of similar classification: comparing cats to cars / comparing Bach with Mozart.

MEANING DIFFERENCES: Other experts mean that use of one or other stresses a subtle difference in meaning:

“compared to” stresses the similarity between items being compared; while “compared with” considers both similarities and differences.

 

3 Finally, there are different trends in usage depending on different parts of speech:

Verb (to compare), intransitive verb, past participle (compared), adjective (comparable), noun (comparison) see Oxford Dictionary’s web page for more information and examples …

 

References (all sites accessed 19.9.16):

Grammarist
Good, short

Daily Writing Tips Cites leading sources including:
The Elements of Style, Associated Press Stylebook, Penguin Writers Manual

Oxford Dictionaries
Detailed grammatical explanation

Online Grammar Comparing meanings

Line by Line, Claire Kehrwald Cook, Houghton Mifflin Co. 1985 p172

 
 
Questions? Suggestions? contact: elinor.bartle<at>uib.no