Which Word Wednesday: Compare vs. Contrast

By July 23, 2014 language No Comments

The main point of words is communication. With others. So in a sense, as long as we are making sense to the people we are talking to, all’s good. Our language has lots of interesting words though, some of which get muddied in meaning. That’s why I do Which Word Wednesday—to try to clear out some of the muck that clogs up communication. Plus, it’s just fun to play with words.

comparecontrastAnyhow, in all the years of Which Word Wednesday, I’ve discovered plenty of my own language errors. Today’s word pair is one that I’ve been using inappropriately since forever. Let’s look at the definitions from The Oxford American Dictionary:

compare :: verb
estimate, measure, or note the similarity or dissimilarity between

noun :: the state of being strikingly different from something else, typically something in juxtaposition or close association

verb :: differ strikingly; compare in such a way as to emphasize differences

Whereas compare notes similarities or differences, contrast is all about differences. Makes sense. I think I use these words properly when I need to use them alone. But I often use them together, as in, Let’s compare and contrast these two things. According to Dave Dowling’s The Wrong Word Dictionary, this is a problem:

Compare and Contrast
A redundancy. When you compare things, you note both differences and similarities. When you contrast things, you note just the differences. Therefore, to use compare or contrast separately but not together.1

oops. Now I have to unlink these two words in my mind. They are like twins, peas in a pod, going together like peas and carrots or peanut butter and jelly or vim and vigor. I’m not sure I can do it, as they just tumble out of my mouth as one entity.

What’s my WWW verdict? Words are tricky.

What’s your verdict? Do you know the difference between compare and contrast? Do you join them together like peas and carrots? Do share in the comments.


Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

1. Dave Dowling, The Wrong Word Dictionary (Oak Park, IL: Marion Street Press, 2005), 63.



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