Like most of my blog posts, this one was inspired by a common error I hear from Knox English students: “The population of China is higher compared to the population of Korea.” This sentence has one grammatical error and one aspect that sounds unnatural. Let’s start with the error.
When comparing two nouns with a single adjective:
– Compared to is used with ordinary adjectives (e.g. tall, confident).
– Than is used with comparatives (e.g. taller, more confident).
This gives us two correct options for the above sentence:
“The population of China is high compared to the population of Korea.”
“The population of China is higher than the population of Korea.”
Both of these are grammatically correct, but they sound awkward. As a general rule of thumb, you should always try to avoid repeating key words or phrases in quick succession. Thus, the following sentences sound a lot more natural:
“The population of China is high compared to that of Korea.”
“The population of China is higher than that of Korea.”
Finally, what about the difference between compared to and compared with? This might sound like a simple issue, but in reality, different style guides have different answers to this question. Personally, I like the explanation offered in the Penguin Writer’s Manual:
– Compared to is used when the focus is on similarities
– Compared with is used when the focus is on differences
Thus, if I wanted to persuade someone that my coffee shop was better than the one next door, I would say, “The quality of coffee is excellent compared with theirs.” In this example, I am stressing the difference between the two. But what if the coffee in my shop is a bit more expensive? I would probably want to underplay this fact when trying to get customers. “Our prices are fair compared to theirs,” might help lessen the differences in the mind of the listener.