Usage and Grammar

Q. Hello, Chicago. I am slightly confused about what the difference between “compare with” and “compare to” is. Paragraph 5.195 seems to suggest that it’s a matter of whether one is making a “literal comparison” or a “poetic or metaphorical comparison,” whereas 5.250 says it’s a matter of whether one is identifying “both similarities and differences” or “primarily similarities.” What’s the rundown?

A. The two paragraphs of CMOS use different ways to describe the same thing. Strictly speaking, to “compare with” is to investigate the similarities and differences between things, such as when you make an actual (literal) comparison between wine and apples, perhaps noting that they both are fruity (similarities), but that one is liquid and one solid (differences). To “compare to” is to note that one thing is like another, but not necessarily literally. Saying that the flavor of a wine is like apples or someone’s cheeks are like roses (similarities) involves more metaphorical or poetic comparisons. Of course, actual usage of those prepositions does not always distinguish so finely.