Comparing Comparable Things

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comparing comparable things

A common grammar error that occurs when making comparisons is to inadvertently compare dissimilar things. When making a comparison, you should try to compare only those items that are logically comparable. In other words, compare things that make sense to compare.

Unbalanced: Mrs. William’s tests are easier than Mr. Olsen.

Balanced: Mrs. William’s tests are easier than Mr. Olsen’s.

Or: Mrs. William’s tests are easier than those of Mr. Olsen.

The latter two sentences compare the tests of Mrs. Williams to the tests of Mr. Olsen, which is clearly what the writer intended. But the first, unbalanced sentence actually compares Mrs. William’s tests to Mr. Olsen himself. That’s weird, right?

Unbalanced:  This coffee is better than the shop on main street.

Balanced: This coffee is better than the coffee in the shop on Main Street.

Or: The coffee here is better than at the shop on Main Street.

Or: This coffee is better than that nasty stuff they serve over on Main Street.

Clearly, there are many options for doing this right. Just be sure you are comparing coffee to coffee and not coffee to a shop that serves coffee.

Sometimes what you need is a preposition to clarify what is being compared.

Unbalanced: Under capitalism, life is generally better than communism.

Balanced: Under capitalism, life is generally better than under communism.

Or:  Under capitalism, life is generally better than it is under communism.

If you don’t see the difference between the first two, the last sentence should make it clear. Without “under” or “it is under,” the sentence is comparing “life under capitalism” to “communism” rather than “life under capitalism” to “life under  communism.” See the difference? It’s subtle, but it matters.

I like Adele’s music better than Katie Perry.

What do you make of  a sentence like that? It can can actually mean either of two things, and neither of them are what the writer likely intends. Either this means that the writer likes Adele’s music more than Katie Perry does (“I like Adele’s music more than Katie Perry likes Adele’s music.”) or that the writer likes the music of Adele better than the person known as Katie Perry (“If I had to choose between listening to an Adele song or playing Bingo with Katie Perry, I’d go with the Adele song.”) What this sentence does not grammatically mean is what the writer probably meant to say:

I like Adele’s music better than Katie Perry’s music.

or:    I like Adele’s music better than Katie Perry’s.

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About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

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