Your sentences may not always make as much sense as you think they do, especially if you're comparing two or more things. It's easy to let comparisons become illogical, incomplete, or ambiguous. Learn how to avoid making faulty comparisons on your way to writing a great essay.
How We Use Comparisons
Let me tell you a few things about myself. I like homemade meals better than any restaurant. Between Rocky and The Terminator, I'd say The Terminator is the best. I also think that reading has more educational value.
Did all of that make sense to you? Do you feel like you know me a little bit better? Comparisons are one of the primary ways we relate our interests and opinions to others and let them know more about ourselves. Also, every one of those comparisons is wrong.
If you picked up on what was wrong with them - excellent. If not, the reason that I put those out there is because spotting faulty comparisons can be extremely tricky. Not because we're stupid, but rather because we're so smart, and human brains are excellent at filling in the gaps. In fact, from the above, you probably decided that I liked home-cooked food more than dine out, that I prefer death machines from the future to scrappy boxers, and that reading is one of the best things you can do to build your intellect. And you'd be right about all of those things, but that's not exactly what I said. Let's break it down.
Illogical Comparison Errors
I like homemade meals better than any restaurant.
Now, you may get that what I mean to say is that I prefer home-cooked meals to eating out, but what I'm actually doing here is comparing two things that aren't comparable: Homemade meals are a thing you eat, while a restaurant is a place you go to eat. What I really mean to say is:
I like homemade meals better than any restaurant cooking,
Or that, I like eating homemade meals better than eating at any restaurant.
What we just demonstrated with homemade meals was an error of illogical comparison. When comparing two things, make sure that the things you're comparing are apples to apples, not apples to spaceships.
You also want to be careful to make sure that the thing you're comparing is not included in the thing you're comparing it to. That means not leaving out words like 'other,' 'any,' or 'else.' For instance, This restaurant is finer than any restaurant. It doesn't make sense because 'any restaurant' includes the restaurant you're saying is fine, and you can't be finer than yourself. Similarly, you can't say, El Chupacabra is hairier than anything I've seen, because that includes El Chupacabra. Instead, what you mean to say is, El Chupacabra is hairier than anything else I've seen.
Misused Comparatives and Superlatives
Now let's look at the second example sentence I gave you at the beginning. Between Rocky and The Terminator, I'd say The Terminator is the best. This is an error of misused comparative forms. What the comparative and superlative forms look like varies depending on the word, but here are a few common examples.
In the positive form, we use the word 'good' to talk about one thing or set of things and what we like about them. As in, This jelly donut costume is good, or, That's a good mustache costume. But when we want to compare two things, the word changes to its comparative form. You don't say, This jelly donut costume is gooder than that mustache costume. You say, This jelly donut costume is better than that mustache costume. 'Better' is the comparative form. However, once you're comparing three or more things - or comparing one thing against a group of things or all things - you need to use 'best,' which is the superlative form. So, you would say, This jelly donut costume is better than that mustache costume, but that mustached, jelly donut costume is the best. Or, That mustached jelly donut costume is the best costume ever.
Therefore, to return to our original example: Between Rocky and The Terminator, I'd say The Terminator is better.
No Comparison Errors
Sometimes you think that you're comparing something (and you are in your head!), but that doesn't make it to the page. For instance, in my first example, I say that, I think reading has more educational value. Obviously something is missing here - more educational value than what? Bird-watching? Singing show tunes? Jumping from very tall heights? But what I'm comparing is missing. There needs to be something there, like, I think reading has more educational value than playing Skyrim.
Make sure your comparisons are complete, or you'll end up like this guy.
Ambiguous Comparison Errors
Sometimes, you may make a comparison that you think is perfectly clear, but the reader can interpret it a different way than you intended. When the comparison is ambiguous, it must be fixed so that it is clear.
Albert is more fond of his father's dragons than his mother.
This phrase could have two possible interpretations. Either Albert is more fond of his father's dragons than his mother is fond of them, or that Albert likes his father's dragons more than he likes his mother! It's ambiguous, so it needs to be fixed. Here's one possible fix:
Albert was more fond of his father's dragons than his mother was.
It's not a perfect sentence now, but at least it's clear.
To recap, when making a comparison between two or more things, remember to:
- Avoid illogical comparisons, like 'I like jelly donuts more than cream.' They're both foods, but you probably mean cream donuts.
- Don't mix up your positive, comparative, and superlative forms, i.e. bad, worse, worst.
- Don't forget to actually make the comparison you're intending to make.
- Double-check to make sure the comparison you're making is completely clear to the reader and couldn't be interpreted any other way. If it could, you should fix it.
After watching this lesson, you should be able to identify and fix the various kinds of faulty comparisons.