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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Shallow

Vaguely Passive

It was and there were. Yup I’m going there. Everyone does it. I am aware that I have. Starting a sentence with “It was” or “There were” is passive and… boring.  Chances are if I’ve stuck them in I’ve crippled the creativity of what could have been said.  These should be avoided for obvious reasons they can leave the reader wondering what exactly I meant by ‘it’ or ‘there’.

That can be a problem because if the reader gets bored then they aren’t paying attention. These two sentence starters are often found clinging to cliché phrases that should never be used such as “it was a dark and stormy night.” Blech, it’s been done to death.

So what would make “It was a dark and stormy night.” Better? A better immersive description. Let’s see…

Darkness gave way to the flash that lit up the rivulets of rain on the window.

The only thing louder than the pounding rain on the roof is the barrage of startling Anne.

With her nose pressed against the cool glass; Anne waited for the flash to light up the curtain of rain. 

Now the sentences are no longer passive or vague. It takes the narrative into a better voicing that the reader will enjoy.

So what about “There were” ?  There were plenty of apples. An abundance of vagueness. Assuming there is no option before or after to go into detail I’ll try to fix this one.

Anne’s eyes danced over the lush reds, greens and in between’s of the shiny apples on display.

Anne selected one of each of the ten types of apples from the market stall.

With ten different kinds, Anne selected the granny Smiths to use in her apple pie. 

This is not an exercise for reducing word count, however sometimes making the words count by adding more is more important than worrying about quantity. Taking away the vague allowed me to put a bit more information into the sentence.

Sometimes these are more innocent and less cliché. They just appear in writing because they’re easy to use.

For example: It was sunny today.

What was sunny? We all know sun appears outside but this can be better. Way better.

Anne smiled at her cat rolling in the puddle of sunlight on the floor.

Shielding her eyes as she opened the door; Anne reached for the sunglasses perched on her head.

The clouds parted and Anne lifted her face to the warmth and light that promised a beautiful day ahead.

Writing a sentence in the passive with a vague beginning is definitely something I try to look out for. A quick “search and find” or revision can help track them down in my writing. When I see them I know I’m being lazy and do what I can to make the sentence more valuable.

Here’s a challenge for my lovely followers. Give one, two or all of these a try. Re-write them and see what you come up with and put them in the comments below to share.

It was a dark and stormy night.
There were plenty of apples.
It was a sunny day.

My advice about passive vague sentence starts.
Watch out for them, find them and put them to rest by writing something more interesting.

-Sheryl

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