COMPARISON AND CONTRAST

When you compare two things, you tell how they are similar. When you contrast two things, you tell how they are different. Sometimes your purpose in a comparison or contrast is to analyze two subjects in order to clarify what makes each unique. At other times, your purpose may be to evaluate two subjects in order to determine which has greater merit or worth.

In general, you can organize information in a comparison-contrast paragraph in two ways. One way is a subject-by-subject arrangement in which you discuss all of your points for one subject and then all of your points for the other subject. The followings paragraph is an example of a subject-by-subject comparison.

Topic sentence

Subject one:

women’s

conversations

 

 

 

Subject two:

men ‘s

conversations

First, it is important to note that men and women regard conversation quite differently. For women it is a passion, a sport, an activity even more important to life than eating because it doesn’t involve weight gain. The first sign of closeness among women is when they find themselves engaging in endless, secretless rounds of conversation with one another. And as soon as a woman begins to relax and feel comfortable in a relationship with a man, she tries to have that type of conversation with him as well. However, the first sign that a man is feeling close to a woman is when he admits that he’d rather she please quiet down so he can hear the TV. A man who feels truly intimate with a woman often reserves for her and her alone the precious gift of one-word answers. Everyone knows that the surest way to spot a successful long-term relationship is to look around a restaurant for the table where no one is talking. Ah . . . now that's real love.

Merrill Markoe, "Men, Women, and Conversation"

This subject-by-subject comparison begins with a topic sentence that states the main idea of the paragraph and indicates that the paragraph will focus on differences. The writer then discusses each subject separately, enabling readers to understand how women and men communicate differently. Notice how the transition however signals the writer's shift from one subject to the other.

The other way to organize information in a comparison-and-contrast paragraph is a point-by-point arrangement, in which you discuss each point for both subjects before going on to the next point. The following paragraph is an example of a point-by-point comparison.

Topic sentence

Point one

Point two

 

 

Point three

Point four

After a short time in England, I began to see why the English see Americans as loud and ill-mannered. Americans are open and confident. The English are reserved and modest. Americans frequently spend money blatantly; the English spend money quietly. For example, when Americans tip a doorman at a hotel, they hand him the money in full view. When the English perform the same act, they fold the bill and slip it into the person’s hand. Americans seem to swagger when they walk; the English walk deliberately--to get from one place to another. Finally, and perhaps most irritating to the English, Americans frequently call people they have met by their best names. Must English people will call someone by his or her first name only after they have been asked to.

Beth Haurin (student)

Like a subject-by-subject comparison, this point-by-point comparison begins with a topic sentence that states the main idea of the paragraph and indicates that the paragraph will concentrate on differences. The rest of the paragraph develops four points of contrast, one at a time, for both Americans and English people. In addition, it gives an example for one of the points--spending money. The shift from one subject to another is signaled by the use of the words Americans and English.

Focus on Comparison and Contrast: Because of its limited length, a comparison-and-contrast paragraph will usually focus on similarities or on differences, not on both.

PRACTICE 3-11: Read this comparison-and-contrast paragraph, and answer the questions that follow.

Comparing the British and American Education Systems

The British System of education is common not only in England but in countries all over the world that were once British colonies. It differs from the American system in a number of ways. First, most American children have only one year of kindergarten, beginning at age five. Under the British system, children begin kindergarten at age four and then go on to another year of more advanced kindergarten called "preparatory" or "prep," which is comparable to American first grade. Starting in seventh grade, most American students study basic subjects separately, devoting a semester to algebra, for example, and another semester to geometry. However, under the British system, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry are taught together in a single course which is then repeated at a higher level every term. Also, in American high schools some classes, particularly electives, may include sophomores, juniors, and seniors. In schools run according to the British system, students at different levels, or "forms," are not mixed in classes; each form attends all its classes together. Finally, American students generally graduate after their twelfth year of school, and senior year is just another year of course work. British students, on the other hand, finish everything they need to learn in secondary school during the first term of their eleventh year of school. Then, during the second term, they study for comprehensive final exams that cover everything they have been learning for the last four years. These exams, which include three separate tests for every subject, are taken during the final term.

Lisa Van Hoboken (student)

1. Identify the topic sentence of the paragraph.

2. Does this paragraph deal mainly with similarities or differences?

How do you know?

3. Is this paragraph organized subject by subject or point by point?

How do you know?

4. List some of the contrasts the writer describes. The first contrast has been listed for you.

American students start kindergarten at five, while British-school students

start kindergarten at four.

5. Do you find this comparison-and-contrast paragraph effective?

Why, or why not?

6. How is the following revised version of the previous paragraph different from the original?

Which version do you find more effective? Why?

The British system of education is common not only in England but in countries all over the world that were once British colonies. It differs from the American system in a number of ways. Most American children have only one year of kindergarten, beginning at age five. Starting in seventh grade, most American students study basic subjects separately, devoting a semester to algebra, for example, and another semester to geometry. In American high schools, some classes, particularly electives, may include sophomores, juniors, and seniors. In addition, American students generally graduate after their twelfth year of school, with senior year being just another year of course work. Under the British system, however, children begin kindergarten at age four and then go on to another year of more advanced kindergarten called "preparatory" or "prep," which is comparable to American first grade. For older students, advanced subjects like algebra, geometry, and trigonometry are taught together in a single course which is then repeated at a higher level every term. Also, students at different levels, or "forms," are not mixed in classes, each form attends all its classes together. Finally, British-school students finish everything they need to learn in secondary school during the first term of their eleventh year of school. Then, over the second term, they study for comprehensive final exams that cover everything they have been learning for the last four years. These exams, which include three separate tests for every subject, are taken during the final term.