Compare and Contrast Help

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Updated on Sep 21, 2011

How Comparison and Contrast Work

When writers compare and contrast, they provide a way of classifying or judging the items they are discussing. They show how two (or more) things are similar or different when placed side by side. Consider, for example, the following paragraph. Read it carefully, and then answer the questions that follow.

    Planting a garden is a lot like having a family. Both require a great deal of work, especially as they grow and as the seasons change. As summer days lengthen, your plants become dependent on you for sustenance, much like your children depend on you for food and drink. Like a thirsty child asking for a drink of water, your plants do the same. Their bent, wilted "body" language, translated, issues a demand much the way your child requests milk or juice. When their collective thirsts are quenched, you see the way they both thrive in your care. The fussy child becomes satisfied, and the plant reaches toward the sun in a showy display. You might also find that you have to clean the space around your plants much like you would pick up toys and clothes that have been thrown helter-skelter in your toddler's room. Similarly, plants shed spent petals, roses need to be pruned, and weeds need to be pulled. To keep children healthy, parents protect their children against disease with medicine, and gardeners do the some with insect repellent. To nourish them, parents give children vitamins, and gardeners use fertilizer, as both promote healthy growth. As children grow and become adults, they need less and less care. However, here's where the similarity ends. While plants die and become dormant during winter, children still maintain a vital role in the family unit.

Practice- Finding the Facts

  1. What two things are being compared and contrasted here?
  2. In what ways are these two things similar?
  3. (There are four similarities; list them here.)

  4. In what ways are these two things different?
  5. (There is one aspect that is different; write it here.)


  1. The two things being compared and contrasted are a parent and a gardener.
  2. Gardeners are like parents in that: a) plants are dependent on gardeners as children are on parents; b) plants require care from gardeners as children do from their parents; c) gardeners tidy up after their plants, as parents do after children; and d) gardeners protect their plants, as parents protect their children.
  3. Gardeners are unlike parents in that their responsibility for their plants ends when the plant dies or goes into winter dormancy.

Practice- Finding the Main Idea

Now that you've answered those questions, consider one more. Read the passage again, and then answer this question:

  1. What is the main idea of this passage?

Did you notice that the opening sentence, "Planting a garden is a lot like having a family," is the topic sentence that expresses the main idea of this paragraph? The paragraph does mention a difference between these two roles, but notice that the topic sentence does not claim that gardeners and parents are exactly alike. Instead, it asserts that they are "a lot" alike.

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