How to Avoid Writing Illogical Comparisons
Not all comparisons make sense. Some comparisons seem complete, but if you are not careful you can ask your readers to compare apples with oranges. You can avoid writing these illogical comparisons by following a few simple rules. Consider this comparison.
Joe DiMaggio played better than any baseball player.
For those of you who don’t know who Joe DiMaggio was, he was a baseball player. Actually, a great baseball player — one of the best, and a New York Yankee. So what’s wrong with the sentence? It takes (gasp of astonishment) Joltin’ Joe out of the group of baseball players. It makes him (swoon of sorrow) a non-baseball player. To keep Joltin’ Joe in the sport, add other:
Wrong: Joe DiMaggio played better than any baseball player.
Right: Joe DiMaggio played better than any other baseball player.
The rule for comparisons here is very simple: Use the word other or else when comparing someone or something to other members of the same group. Check out the following examples:
Wrong: The star soprano of the Santa Lola Opera, Sarah Screema, sings louder than anyone in the cast.
Why it’s wrong: The sentence makes it clear that Sarah is in the cast, but the comparison implies that she’s not in the cast. Illogical!
Right: The star soprano of the Santa Lola Opera, Sarah Screema, sings louder than anyone else in the cast.
Wrong: That robot short-circuits more frequently than any mechanical device.
Why it’swrong: A robot is, by definition, a mechanical device, but the comparison takes the robot out of the group of mechanical devices.
Right: That robot short-circuits more frequently than any other mechanical device.
Here’s another problem. Can you find it?
Max’s nose is longer than Michael.
Okay, before you say anything, Michael is tall — not skyscraper tall, but at least six-two. Now do you see what’s wrong with the sentence? Max’s nose, a real tourist attraction for its length and width (not including the pimple at the end) is about four inches long. It is not longer than Michael. It is longer than Michael’s nose.
Wrong: Max’s nose is longer than Michael.
Right: Max’s nose is longer than Michael’s nose.
Also right: Max’s nose is longer than Michael’s.
One more example:
Al’s toe ring is as wide as Denny.
Not likely. Denny is a fairly trim fellow, but even so his waist measures 33 inches. If Al wore a toe ring that wide, no shoes would fit and walking would be a real adventure. Thus
Wrong: Al’s toe ring is as wide as Denny.
Right: Al’s toe ring is as wide as Denny’s toe ring.
Also right: Al’s toe ring is as wide as Denny’s.
Here’s the bottom line:
Make sure your comparisons are logical.
Check to see that you have compared what you want to compare — two things that are at least remotely related.
If the first part of the comparison involves a possessive noun or pronoun (showing ownership), the second part of the comparison probably needs a possessive also.