compare to

compare to
compare with, compare to
1. In general usage, these two constructions tend to be used interchangeably; AmE generally prefers to when there is a choice, whereas in BrE the choice is more evenly divided. A broad distinction in principle should be kept in mind, namely that compare to is used to liken two things whereas compare with is used to weigh or balance one thing against another. When Shakespeare in his famous line asks Shall I compare thee to a Summers day?, he is likening, even though in the end he shows his beloved to be more lovely than a summer's day.
2. This broad distinction can be seen in the following modern examples, although the use of to in the 1976 example violates it:

• American Opinion…compared the familiar peace symbol to an anti-Christian ‘broken cross’ —Time, 1970


• He did not individually compare other women with her, but because she was the first, she was equal in his memory to the sum of all the others —J. Berger, 1972


• Compared to war-reporting of the Spanish war…Journey to a War is superficial and uninformative —S. Hynes, 1976


• Salim's flight to London can be compared…to the Romeward journey in Virgil —London Review of Books, 1979


• The company produced a creditable performance, particularly when compared with the results of many of its competitors —Daily Telegraph, 1992

3. When a subordinate clause or phrase is introduced by the participial form compared, the preposition is either to or with, although here usage is moving in favour of to:

• The church looked dimly mysterious compared with the glare of the passage —P. D. James, 1986.

• This was a modest sum compared to what other people spent —Tom Wolfe, 1987

• Compared to physics and astronomy, cosmology is a young science —Science Show (ABC Radio), AusE 2003 [OEC].

4. In BrE with is obligatory when compare is used intransitively, because the balancing rather than the likening notion predominates:

• His achievements do not compare with those of A. J. Ayer —Sunday Times, 1988.

In AmE, however, compare to is possible here:

• None of those birds compare to L.A. pigeons —LA Weekly, 2004.

See also comparable, comparison 2.

Modern English usage. 2014.

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