The Fault In Our Comparisons

When I write I often compare things. Directly or indirectly doesn’t matter, but it needs to be complete and correct. There’s nothing worse than wondering… then what? Or the sentence is simply not making sense.

There are at least two things needed when comparing.  After that, there is how they are compared. First and foremost being complete when comparing is important.

Completeness in comparisons

Complete the sentence. Two items are needed for any comparison.

Incorrect: The shallow water is two degrees warmer.

Two degrees warmer to what?

Correct: The shallow water is two degrees warmer than yesterday.

Incorrect: She studied so hard.

She studied so hard, then what happened?

Correct: She studied so hard and failed the test anyway.

Now ‘so’ has been qualified.

Now that completeness is addressed on to the next issue with a faulty comparison, clarity. One must be clear when comparing otherwise things become… unclear.

Clarity in comparisons

Incorrect: Dale gave Amber more cake than his sister.  

This is unclear and could mean: Dale gave Amber more cake than he gave to his sister, or Dale gave Amber more cake than Amber gave his sister.

Correct: Dale gave Amber more cake than he gave to his sister.
Correct: Dale gave more cake to Amber than he gave to his sister.

If it’s unclear the reader is left to interpret the writers meaning. This can be a problem since everyone thinks differently and might not understand what the writer was comparing. Now that clarity is more clear on to the last faulty comparison. Consistency.

Being consistent is important for so many things and for so many reasons. In comparisons, it is important so the reader knows what is being compared to what. Doing this will eliminate the potential confusion or odd imagining of events in the reader’s mind.

Consistency in comparisons

Incorrect: The Apples from the market are cheaper than FreshMart.

This compares Apples to Freshmart

Correct: The apples from the market are fresher than the apples at FreshMart.
Correct: The apples at the Market are fresher than those at FreshMart.
Correct: The apples at the Market are fresher than FreshMarket’s apples.

Now I’m comparing Apples to Apples.

Here are a couple more examples.

Incorrect: “Amber is more beautiful than anyone I know,” Dale said.

This means Amber is more beautiful than Amber since Dale knows her.

Correct: “Amber is more beautiful than anyone else I know,” Dale said.

Now Amber is compared to other that Dale knows.

Incorrect: “This cake is better than any I’ve tasted,” Amber said.

Again amber is tasting the cake now so…

Correct: “This cake is better than any other I’ve tasted,” Amber said.

Now she’s comparing it to cakes other than the one she’s eating.

It is easy to miss these types of errors of comparison especially when speech and dialect can influence how we write. We are bombarded with improper grammar and speech ‘quirks’ that it can be difficult to notice that what is being said isn’t complete. I know I don’t always see these and will have to defer to a professional to get them for me.

My Advice about faulty comparisons.
Check for completeness, Clarity, and Consistency when writing comparisons. I recommend having more than one set of eyes take a look for them. 

-Sheryl

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4 thoughts on “The Fault In Our Comparisons

  1. That is the funniest thing, but it drives me bonkers! I hate when comparisons are unfinished. I end up reading the line 2 or 3 times. I know what they are comparison relates to, it’s hinted at, usually, but it still drives me bonkers. Now I know why! Thank you.

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