Making comparisons seems to be a very central part of Korean life. On hearing where you went to university, a Korean will immediately consider whether your university is more prestigious or less prestigious than his. Learning what country you come from, a Korean must immediately determine whether it is more developed or less developed than Korea. Most Koreans feel deeply uneasy having any sort of relationship with a person until they have determined whether that person is older or younger than they are. Indeed, it often seem, that Koreans as a group are obsessed with establishing rankings and making comparisons.
Unfortunately, many problems seem to crop up when Koreans attempt to write about comparisons in English. In fact, there is a certain pattern to most of the common Korean-English problems involving comparison. Let's start with two examples from the work of my own advanced-level students:
1) xxx- In comparing with Taiwan, the population of Korea is larger.
2) xxx- Land prices in Seoul are higher comparing other cities.
Before explaining why these sentences are incorrect, let me show you some ways that the same ideas would be expressed in English:
1a) ok- The population of Korea is larger than that of Taiwan.
1b) ok- Korea's population is larger than Taiwan's.
1c) ok- Korea has more people than Taiwan.
1d) ok- There are more people in Korea than in Taiwan.
2a) ok- Land prices are higher in Seoul than in other cities.
2b) ok- Land costs more in Seoul than in other cities.
Can you see the difference between the problem sentences and the correct versions? The word, 'compare', is used in both of the problem sentences, but it does not appear in the correct versions. Yet the correct versions are clearly expressing comparisons. What language do they use to convey the idea of comparison? Well, each of the correct sentences includes either a comparative adjective ('larger', 'higher'. or the word, 'more', and the word, 'than'. And that, quite simply, is the way most comparisons are expressed in English.
For various reasons, partly through the interference of Korean syntax and partly through a tendency toward verbosity in written expression, Koreans tend to use various phrases involving the word, 'compare'-- 'compared with', when we compare with', 'comparing with', 'in comparison', etc.-- when they write sentences expressing comparison. Some of these are simply incorrect phrases, others are used inappropriately, but the most important point is this We generally avoid using the word, 'compare', in a sentence if the sentence itself expresses an explicit comparison, for example through the use of a comparative adjective, or 'more' or 'than'. In other words, the structure "X than Y" expresses comparison very clearly and explicitly. When the reader encounters "X than Y", he knows that he is reading a comparison; there is no need to use the word, 'compare'.
This may sound simple, indeed obvious. But look at any page of English written by a Korean and you will see examples of the problem. Here is a sentences taken from a promotional brochure released by a major Korean corporation:
3) xxx — Comparing N Industrial Company with other Korean textile makers, N has a larger production capacity.
Can you see that the sentence expresses a simple "X than Y" comparison and that the use of a phrase with 'compare' is completely unnecessary? Can you supply a corrected version?
Here is how I would convey the same ideas:
3a) ok- N Industrial Company has a larger production capacity than other Korean textile makers.
Now, see if you can write a corrected version of this sentence, taken from one of my students' compositions:
4) xxx— The mineral resources in South Korea are fewer when comparing with North Korea.
Again, there is no reason to include a phrase with the word, 'compare' in a sentence which is obviously and explicitly stating a comparison. I would write the same idea as:
4a. ok- South Korea has fewer mineral resources than North Korea.
So far, all the problem examples have been sentences in which the use of 'compare' phrases was unnecessary because explicit comparison was already indicated by a comparative adjective or by 'than'. Since the form of these problem sentences is so consistent and conspicuous-- the presence of a 'compare' phrase along with a comparative adjective and/or 'than'-- it should be easy for you to identify, correct, and eventually learn to avoid such problem sentences in the future. But now consider this sentence, also the product of one of my students:
5) xxx- The sport of sailing came to Korea in 1972, 400 years late comparing to England.
Here you see another 'compare' phrase, but there is no comparative adjective and no 'than' construction. Yet this is also a problem sentence, and also a case where the 'compare' phrase is unnecessary because the idea of comparison is already obvious. How can we tell?
Well, you will recognize that the adjective, 'late', has the comparative form, 'later', which is, in fact, what the writer means to convey. He is trying to express the idea that the arrival of sailing as a sport occurred later in Korea than in England. Indeed, one perfectly good way correct this sentence is by using the comparative adjective, 'later':
5a) ok- The sport of sailing came to Korea in 1972, 400 years later than (it came) to England.
But in talking about time, 'later than' is not a very elegant expression; the words, 'before', and 'after' are much more direct. The point of sentence 5 is really that sailing came to Korea after it came to England. So, let's try this version:
5b). ok- The sport of sailing came to Korea in 1972, 400 years after its introduction in England.
Now, in 5b we have a lovely English sentence expressing the same information that the student-writer of 5 wished to convey. Again there is no need for any 'compare' phrase. Can you see why? Even though 5b contains no comparative adjective or 'than' phrase, it does have the word, 'after', which actually makes an explicit comparison.
This illustration demonstrates that besides comparative adjectives and "X than Y" structures, there are other ways in which a sentence can express an explicit comparison and thereby render the use of a 'compare' phrase unnecessary. Consider this example, a classic of Korean-English writing I found in the English abstract of a Ph.D. thesis accepted by an elite Korean university:
6) xxx- In improving working conditions, the labor movement in Europe is ahead comparing with the Korean case.
Again, at first glance you may not be able see why this sentence expresses an explicit comparison and therefore should not include the 'compare' phrase. But think about the word 'ahead'. If I say that 'X is ahead of Y', aren't I
expressing an explicit comparison? So, once more we have a problem sentence in which a 'compare' phrase appears for no reason. I trust you can make the correction yourself, but please see if you can write a version that eliminates the Konglish-sounding phrase, 'the Korean case'.
Here are two possible version:
6a) ok- In improving working conditions, Europe's labor movement is ahead of Korea's.
6b) ok- The European labor movement is ahead of the Korean one in improving working conditions.
The point is that in addition to comparative adjectives and 'X than Y' structures, certain other expressions, such as 'before', 'after', 'ahead of' and 'behind', also express explicit comparisons, and when a sentence contains an explicit comparison, we do not use a phrase with the word, 'compare'.
This is no less true when a sentence provides an explicit superlative statement. Consider this problem sentence:
7) The Business Administration department has the highest competition ratio compared with all the other departments in the university.
This sentence uses a superlative adjective, 'highest', but can you see that an absolutely explicit comparison is being made between the Business Administration department and the other departments? Again, when such an explicit comparison is expressed, we do not use a 'compare' phrase. Can you supply a corrected version?
I would do it like this:
7a) The Business Administration department has the highest competition ratio of all the departments in the university.
7b) The Business Administration department has a higher competition ratio than any other department in the university.
I hope the point is now clear. As I said, Korean-English composition
problems involving comparison follow a consistent pattern: they employ phrases like 'compared with', 'comparing', and 'in comparison', inappropriately, incorrectly, and above all, unnecessarily. The key to avoiding these errors is simple: if a sentence expresses an explicit, direct comparison, do not use a phrase with the word, 'compare'.
I know exactly the question that is bothering you right now: "Well, then, when do you use those phrases with 'compare'?" The most useful answer is, "much less frequently than Korean-English writers," but I suspect you won't be satisfied with that answer. So let me give a few examples of situations where 'compare' phrases are used appropriately. See if you can understand the patterns.
A) I consider myself a reasonably skillful and experienced chess player, but compared with Bobby Fisher, I'm just a novice.
B) I know you feel tired, but we've only been climbing for two hours. The fatigue you feel now is nothing compared with how tired you're going to feel by the time we get to the top of this mountain.
C) Compared HIM India, Korea is a very disciplined, orderly society, but compared with Japan, it is chaotic.
D) Jim: It's so inconvenient to wear a safety belt when you're in a car.
Tim: Believe me, that's a very small inconvenience compared with the inconvenience of being killed in a car wreck.
Do you see how these sentences differ from the explicitly comparative sentences we dealt with earlier? One obvious difference is grammatical. These sentences do not contain 'Y than Y' structures. Nor do they contain any comparative adjectives. Instead, they make statements with adjectives in
positive form ('skillful', 'experienced', 'tired', 'disciplined', 'orderly', 'chaotic', 'small'. or they make statements with no adjectives at all ('I'm just a novice...' ...the fatigue you feel now is nothing'...... So, at the
grammatical level, these sentences are different from sentences expressing direct, explicit comparisons. But the difference is more than grammatical; it involves discourse function.
Consider the last example, D. When Jim says that putting on a safety belt is inconvenient, he isn't thinking of any comparison at all, he is simply making an observation, or a complaint. But the speaker of D wants him to reconsider that attitude, and he therefore suggests a rather surprising comparison. The same is basically true in sentence B: The person who complains of being tired isn't making a comparative statement, but the speaker of B suggests a somewhat surprising, or at any rate not obvious comparison which causes him to reconsider his attitude.
Sentence A, also suggests a somewhat unexpected comparison; we don't generally evaluate our own chess competence in terms of the skills of a Grand Master. By suggesting such an extreme and unlikely comparison, the speaker of A makes us consider the relativity of our judgments about chess skill. In the same way, sentence C focuses on the relativity of comparative judgments; it reminds us that any judgment of Korea's orderliness depends entirely on what society it is being compare with.
Can you see that in all of these sentences using 'compared with', the emphasis is on the particular item that is being introduced into the comparison, and that these are surprising, or at any rate not obvious items, Or items that call our attention to the relativity of some judgement? In other words, 'compare with' draws our attention to the act of comparing when that act itself is meant to surprise the listeners, cause them to reconsider their perspective on a given issue, or make them aware of the relativity of their evaluation.
To appreciate the difference between these 'compared with' notions and the ideas expressed with simple, explicit comparisons, look back at our earlier examples. There is nothing unexpected about introducing Taiwan as a comparison in discussing the size of Korea's population, and saying that land prices are higher in Seoul than in other cities in no way challenges our customary perspective on the issue. Certainly the mineral resources of North Korea are an obvious item to introduce when evaluating those of South Korea. In none of these cases of simple, explicit comparison between obviously comparable items is there any reason to call attention to the act of comparison. Therefore, we do not use 'compare' phrases. But we would in a case like this
E) Compared with Singapore, Korea has a lot of people, but its population is minuscule compared with China's.
Here, we are calling attention to the act of comparing because we are showing how our perspective changes with the selection of items in the comparison; we are emphasizing the relativity of the evaluation. The point is that we use 'compared with' to emphasize the act of comparison if we are introducing unexpected items into the comparison or if we wish to call the
listener's attention to the way that the act of comparison alters perspective, i.e., to the relativity of the issue in question.
The expression, 'in comparison', generally has the same discourse function as 'compared with': it simply fits differently into the structure of a sentence. Here are a few examples:
F) Bobby Fisher is a true chess genius. Most other 'champions' are mere amateurs in comparison.
G) Her illness is really serious. My medical problems seem insignificant in comparison.
As you can see, 'in comparison' comes at the end of a sentence, but it is always obvious from immediate context what the item is being compared with.
And now, are you're wondering how we use, 'comparing'? Well, the answer here is that we definitely use it much, much less frequently than Korean-English writers. This is because 'comparing', whether used as a participle or a gerund, is not used in making comparisons at all. Rather, it is used in talking about the act of comparing. Typically, this is done as part of the larger discourse structure of presenting a fairly complex comparison:
H) Comparing the development strategies of Korea and Taiwan, we note many similarities, but also many crucial differences. In both countries the
central government has played a major role, but the focus of government initiative has been different. Whereas the Korean government has stressed heavy industry and large corporations, in Taiwan....
Here, the word, 'comparing', used as a participle, simply introduces the topic of the paragraph: an extended, complex comparison. The word, 'comparing', itself is not used in making the comparison. That work is left for later sentences.
Similarly, 'comparing' can be used as a gerund in talking about the act of comparing:
I) Comparing children's intelligences is not only difficult, but also generally very inaccurate.
The participle can also be used to talk about the act of comparing:
J) Comparing the vocabularies of Sanskrit, Greek, and a variety of modern European languages, scholars were led to the theory of an Indo-European family of languages.
But can you see that 'comparing' is used for talking about comparisons or for introducing the topic of an extended comparison, but that we do not use
'comparing' in making actual comparisons. Understanding this will help you avoid countless Korean-English problems.
I've shown you the ways in which 'compare' expressions are used, and I think you'll admit that they are somewhat special cases. This is precisely my point: In general, we DO NOT use expressions with the word, 'compare',
when we are simply making a comparison. English expresses most comparisons with comparative or superlative adjectives, words like 'before', 'after', 'ahead', and 'behind', and 'X than Y' structures. So, my advice is very simple. If you find yourself writing any phrase with 'compare' in it, stop
immediately. Unless it belongs to one of the fairly special cases described above, ERASE the word, 'compare', and rewrite the sentence using the ordinary, simple, reliable patterns for expressing comparison comparative adjectives and 'X than Y' structures. Simple is safe; simple is beautiful. NOTE: English classes in Korea are taught a rule differentiating 'compare with' from 'compare to'. According to that rule, 'compare with' is used when things of like kind are compared to find specific similarities and differences, while 'compare to' is used to mean 'liken', i.e., to point up similarities (typically metaphoric ones. between two unlike things. We can compare the economic development of Korea with that of Taiwan. We can compare his voice to thunder. Although I don't recall hearing that rule until I came to Asia, it does seem to hold true in most written English. However, in conversational English, 'compare to' is very commonly used in situations where the 'rule' requires 'compare with'. In fact, the rule really does not apply to modern spoken English.