Compare vs. Contrast: What's the difference?

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Difference between Compare and Contrast

There is often a need to compare and/or contrast all sorts of things. This is because some things are similar but usually with differences which make an impact on ideas or decisions we are about to make. When we speak of telling the differences and likeness of certain things we often say we are endeavoring to “compare and contrast”. However, there is quite a difference between contrasting and comparing. This article aims to discuss how to correctly compare and contrast.



Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines compare as a verb meaning “to represent as similar”. It also means “to examine the character or qualities of especially in order to discover resemblances or differences”. Another way to use the word is to mean “to be equal or alike”. Simply put, the word compare focuses on two things and their similarities and differences.

The same online dictionary defines contrast, however as a verb to mean “to compare or appraise in respect to differences”. It is used with the preposition “to” when comparing against an object, and “with” when comparing against a person. In short, contrast sheds light on a comparison between two things and mainly their differences.


The word compare is of Middle English 14th century etymology. It comes from the Anglo-French word comparer, and the Latin comparare, which have later become the present-day words couple, compare. The root word compar (com + par) means equal.

The word contrast comes from the Middle French word contraster, which means to oppose or to resist. This is an alteration of the word contrester, from the Vulgar Latin contrastare (contra + stare), which translates to stand.


The word compare is mainly used to imply a purpose of demonstrating relative values by bringing out characteristic qualities in two or more subjects, whether they are similar or divergent from one another. For example, to compare like characteristics, we say, “Her cheeks are as red as an apple.” To compare two objects using one characteristic but of different degrees, we say “Her cheeks are redder than an apple.” And, if we would like to compare extreme degrees, we say “Her cheeks were reddest.” To compare effectively, one needs to be aware of the usage of adjectives and their comparative and superlative forms. Most adjective word endings end in –er when changed to their comparative forms, while they are changed to –est when used in their superlative forms.

The word contrast is used to imply an emphasis on differences. As such, there are usually two adjectives involved. For instance, we can say, “Apples are red, while her cheeks are pink.” We can also say, “Maria’s cheeks are red, but Anna’s are pale.”

There are times when one needs to do both a contrast and a comparison. In this case, it would be perfectly logical to say “Anna’s cheeks are redder than Mary’s.”(Comparing) and “Anna’s cheeks are red, while Mary’s are pale.” (Contrasting)

Similarities and Differences

  • Compare implies differences and similarities. Contrast implies differences only.
  • Compare is of Anglo-French etymology. Contrast is of French from Vulgar Latin.
  • One may compare using the same characteristic in varying levels. Contrast is used with two different characteristics.


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