How to Compare and Contrast in English

Table of verbs

If you’ve ever spent time in an English class, you’ve probably needed to “compare and contrast” things.

Click below to listen to a recording of this passage.

 

If you’ve ever spent time in an English class, you’ve probably needed to “compare and contrast” things.

Whether you have to write a compare and contrast essay or give an oral presentation that compares and contrasts two disparate (different) things, you’ll need to know what the term means. You’ll also need to learn how to do it!

When you compare two or more things, you show how they are similar.

Alternatively, when you contrast two or more things, you show how they are different.

In short, when you compare and contrast, you show how two or more things are both similar and different.

So, what are some compare and contrast topics? Where can you find some compare and contrast examples? Most importantly, how can you write a great compare and contrast essay?

Read on to learn the answers to all of these questions!

Prefer to watch this lesson on video? Here’s our full length tutorial on ‘How to Compare and Contrast in English’:

How to Compare and Contrast in English:

Compare and Contrast Topics

Click below to listen to a recording of this passage.

 

As previously stated, you always need at least two things to compare and contrast.

For example, you might choose to compare and contrast two famous people, like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. You could also draw a comparison between two famous buildings, like the Taj Mahal and the Sydney Opera House.

The truth is that the sky’s the limit!

You can compare and contrast just about any two topics. Nonetheless, let’s take a look at a few common topics to help you brainstorm:

  • Events (wars, games, meetings, parties…)
  • People (politicians, actors, professionals, public figures…)
  • Places (buildings, countries, cities, planets…)
  • Ideas (theories, characteristics, cultures, philosophies…)
  • Everyday Items (furniture, electronics, appliances, tools…)
  • Animals (dog breeds, species, domestic pets, wild animals…)
  • Food (ingredients, meals, food from restaurants, foreign food…)

As you can see, there are a lot of things that you can compare and contrast. The list is practically infinite! Now let’s look at how you can compare and contrast in English.

How to Compare and Contrast in English

Click below to listen to a recording of this passage.

Once you’ve chosen two things to compare and contrast, it’s time to put pen to paper (start writing). Before we discuss how to format a compare and contrast essay or how to write a compare and contrast thesis, we’ll need to discuss how to draw a comparison between two things.

For example, let’s say that you want to compare and contrast the quality of education at Harvard and Yale. In order to do this, you will need to do quite a bit of research on both institutions. Then, you can separate both schools into two columns.

In each column, you would need to write down information about the different schools. For example, you could use data like the graduation rates, average student GPAs, acceptance rates, average school rankings, and so on.

Once you have that information compiled, you can see where there are similarities and where there are differences.

After compiling all of that information, you might have a table that looks like this:

Quality of Education at Harvard Quality of Education at Yale
Graduation Rate 98.1% 97.9%
Average GPA 4.01 4.21
Acceptance Rate 9.3% 4.5%
School Ranking #2 #3

*Note: the table above is just an example. It does not represent accurate data from Harvard or Yale.

As you can see, there are some similarities and differences. The “Graduation Rate” and “School Ranking” are relatively close. You might consider these two metrics as similarities. However, the “Average GPA” and “Acceptance Rate” are somewhat far apart, so you might consider these two metrics as differences.

With this information, you’re already halfway to a great compare and contrast essay!

How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay

Now that you know how to compare (find the similarities) and contrast (find the differences) the two schools, you can put this information into an essay format. Generally, a compare and contrast essay looks something like this:

Introduction

The introduction is the first paragraph of your essay. It will introduce your topic and give you a chance to summarize your argument with your thesis. Generally, the thesis is the last sentence of your introductory paragraph. In a compare and contrast essay, the thesis usually expresses your opinion about the things being compared and contrasted.

Using the same example from before, you might write a thesis statement like this:

While Harvard and Yale do share similar graduation rates and national school rankings, they differ in their average GPAs and acceptance rates.

However, this thesis doesn’t really give your opinion, it just states the facts based on data. An opinion-based thesis means that you must make an argument based on the available information, like this:

While Harvard and Yale do share similar graduation rates and national school rankings, the quality of education at Yale is better based on their higher average GPAs and lower acceptance rates.

Evidence

This section of your essay can vary in length, depending on your argument.

That said, the middle of your essay should probably be no less than 2-3 paragraphs. In this part of your essay, you will present the evidence that shows why your thesis is correct.

Continuing with our Harvard/Yale essay example, this would be the part where you put all of your data from the table to good use. Since an essay makes an argument, you will want to present your evidence in a logical way. We will use the second thesis (opinion-based thesis) above when creating our argument:

Harvard students graduate at a rate of 98.1% and Yale students graduate at a similar rate of 97.1%. According to national rankings, Harvard is considered the #2 school in the nation, while Yale trails close behind at #3. Looking at these two metrics alone, Harvard and Yale seem quite similar.

However, the two schools show their differences in other areas. For example, Harvard students have an average GPA of just 4.01, while Yale students have a much higher average GPA of 4.21. The two schools also differ in their acceptance rates. Harvard accepts applicants at a rate of 9.3%, whereas Yale accepts just 4.5% of its applicants.

Conclusion

The conclusion is the last paragraph of your essay. This paragraph should summarize the evidence, restate your thesis, and offer a satisfactory end to your essay. The conclusion of your Harvard/Yale essay could look something like this:

In conclusion, the similarities and differences between the quality of education at Harvard and Yale are quite clear. While Harvard and Yale’s school rankings and graduation rates are very similar, their average GPAs and acceptance rates differ greatly. Thanks to the school’s high GPAs and low acceptance rate, Yale emerges as the clear winner.

Compare and Contrast Examples

Finally, it may help you to check out more compare and contrast resources. Here are a few places to find some great sample arguments and essays:

We hope you found this guide useful! If you’d like to learn more about how to compare and contrast in English, visit Magoosh Speaking today!

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