Composing Comparisons



Comparisons in language help us communicate imagery, opinions, proportions, and degrees of condition, excellence, or deficiency. They serve communication as versatile, colorful tools as long as they are clear and complete.

If they are not clear or complete, they can quickly fog another’s view of our thoughts. Such ambiguity will often result from an omission in our comparison.

Consider the following sentence:

Jack’s income is higher than his wife.

Here we probably do not intend to comment on the elevation or height of Jack’s wife. Rather, we mean to convey Jack’s income is higher than that of his wife or Jack’s income is higher than his wife‘s.

We commonly omit words in comparisons because we are used to expressions such as:

This table is as wide as that one [is wide].
The days are sunnier this month than [they were] last [month].
Her poems are shorter than her songs [are short].

The statements remain clear because readers can typically detect the missing words with little thought. However, as we see in our example about Jack’s income, the wrong missing words can leave our readers guessing.

Let’s look at a couple more sentences that create a comparison with an as or a than clause that includes an omission:

My cat is as nice to me as my roommate. [Are we expressing my cat’s equal attitude toward me and my roommate or my cat’s and my roommate’s equal attitude toward me?]

Alaska has more lakes than any state. [Isn’t Alaska also a state?]

We will serve our readers much better by writing either:

My cat is as nice to me as to my roommate.
OR
My cat is as nice to me as my roommate is.

Alaska has more lakes than any other state. [Here, because we include the word other, the omission of has or does following state is acceptable because the reader can fill in the missing word with little thought.]

We also want to be mindful of how we write double comparisons:

Joshua is as tall, if not taller than, Herb.

People might understand what is being expressed in this sentence; however, if we remove the second comparison, if not taller than, we are left with an ungrammatical statement: Joshua is as tall Herb. We will therefore revise it as follows:

Joshua is as tall as, if not taller than, Herb.

We can also write it as Joshua is as tall as Herb, if not taller.

Other comparisons to watch for are those in which an omission creates an illogical relationship between different classes of entities:

His approach to selling fine china is far superior to his competitors.

If we leave this sentence as it is, we will be comparing approach to competitors, entities that do not correlate. We can correct this by completing what we’ve omitted:

His approach to selling fine china is far superior to that of his competitors. OR His approach to selling fine china is far superior to his competitors’.

As articulate, grammatical writers, we look to engage our readers with accuracy and economy. By writing clear, complete comparisons, we paint pictures with words that can leave lasting impressions.

 

Pop Quiz

Using what you’ve learned in this article, determine if each comparison is complete or incomplete. If it is complete, leave it as it is; if it is incomplete, revise it to make it clear.

1. The park is closer to the mall than to the bus station.

2. My baseball is as scuffed, if not more scuffed than, yours.

3. Rain here is as scarce as the desert.

4. Jolene likes Theo more than Rosanna.

5. The supplier billed them as much as he did us.

 

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. [Complete]

2. My baseball is as scuffed as, if not more scuffed than, yours.

3. Rain here is as scarce as it is in the desert.

4. Jolene likes Theo more than she does Rosanna. OR Jolene likes Theo more than Rosanna does.

5. [Complete]

Posted on Tuesday, October 29, 2019, at 11:00 pm

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3 Comments on Composing Comparisons

3 responses to “Composing Comparisons”

  1. judith says:

    How nice to see this in print. I haven’t thought about how I write comparisons until now. My writing will improve. Thanks.

  2. Ian says:

    Just to say that while I could see what was wrong with the original (erroneous/ambiguous) statements, the value of this post is to ensure that I’m aware of this kind of error and should pay attention in future. Really liking these articles!

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