Comparison and Contrast

We spend almost every moment of our lives trying to make sense of the world by putting things into categories. If we are junior-high school teachers, we wonder if a new student will be an easy-going chap who adapts to classroom rules, or a trouble-maker. In either case, we are comparing and contrasting that kid with other kids we have taught. Those of us with children of our own do the same. We look at our kids (if we have more than one) and ask, Why is the older one better at reading than the younger one? Why does the younger one have more friends than the older one? Why are both kids smarter than me? As we ask these questions, we are comparing and contrasting.

Comparison shows the similarities between two things. Contrast shows the differences. A comparison-and-contrast paragraph shows how two things are alike or how they differ, or both. Comparison-and-contrast essays are useful for writing about almost any topic. They are good for writing about history (the similarities between the Turkish annihilation of the Armenians and the German annihilation of the Jews, for example), about the similarities between luxury cars, about the relative merits of low-carb and low-fat diets.

What follows are five paragraphs making a point-by-point comparison between two forms of transportation:

When I moved to New York City in 1979, it was impossible to board a subway train without some glitch making the journey a miserable experience; a long delay (compounded by the conductor rarely giving an explanation), a gang of cigarette-puffing thugs marching through the cars, broken air-conditioning on the hottest day in July, a re-routed train depositing me forty blocks north of my destination. By 1983, I began bicycling to Manhattan. I quickly discovered a number of advantages. First, it was good exercise. Wearing my Walkman, I pedaled the ten miles between my home near Prospect Park and my job on West 46th Street; over a period of six months, I lost fifteen pounds. Riding a bicycle was also cheap. The subway fare was a dollar, so I saved two dollars a day, or ten dollars a week; no small amount considering I was making a weekly $140. I also saw a city that, had I been riding the subway, my nose buried in the Daily News, I would have missed.

I saw huge cranes making buildings rise. I saw new cafes, seemingly opening overnight. I saw exotic and beautiful people in clothes that looked as if they had been manufactured on Jupiter. I saw potholes spewing steam, trucks delivering frozen pigs to the meat district, yellow school buses unloading bearded Jews in the diamond district. And during my bike rides, I got the weather.

I cycled when it was ten degrees out and my fingers froze, even with two pairs of gloves. I cycled when it was 101 degrees out, sweat-drenched shoppers staggering from one air-conditioned store to the next. I cycled in pouring rain and blinding snow and, if I were lucky, on cloudless days when the sky was bluer than a robin’s egg.

Best of all, twice each day, I crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, the spider-cabled thread that connects Brooklyn to Manhattan. The bridge, with its stone towers and wooden bike path and mighty view of two boroughs passively facing each other, was a time machine; a daily reminder that going from Brooklyn to Manhattan was as difficult as it had been in 1883.

Once, as I crossed from Manhattan to Brooklyn at 6 am, soft snow was falling. The pre-dawn sky was purple-black, and I was the only one on the bridge. Suddenly, my wheels slid out from under me, and I hit the snow-covered boards, gently sliding a good fifteen feet. It did not hurt. When I stopped sliding, I lay on my back, staring at the stone towers, the purple sky behind them, snow falling on my face. Wanting to stay there forever, I raised my head and saw, half a mile away, the Manhattan Bridge. And in the middle of the bridge was a delayed D-train, its passengers staring morosely out their windows at me and at the snow they could not feel.


Below are a number of topics for a comparison and contrast paragraph. Choose one of them or choose your own. Make sure the comparison you choose is valid. For example, unless you plan on being funny, do not compare and contrast pineapples and nuclear bombs.

Two popular singers or bands
Chocolate versus sex
A life of public service versus a life of selfish gain.
How you speak when you are with friends and family versus how you speak at work.
A good-looking lover versus a homely one.
Whisky versus beer.
How we chose our friends when we are six-years-old versus how we choose our friends now.
Public schools versus private schools.
Your mother compared to your father.
The worst two jobs you ever had.
Macs versus PCs


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