I got a comment on an old post about Error ID strategies (one of the first posts I ever put up) asking me to clarify the relationship between Comparison Errors and possession. I figured that, since it’s been a while since I wrote about writing at all, I’d oblige, — and go a bit further. I aim to please, you know.

The easiest and snappiest way to describe a comparison error is to say that it compares apples to oranges. If you’re faced with a sentence that doesn’t compare two things of the same kind, you’re faced with a faulty comparison and you need to either mark it as the error (in Error ID) or fix it (in Sentence Improvement).

Some faulty comparisons examples:

  • The battery in my new laptop is way better than my old computer, which had to stay plugged in all the time.
  • I like both singers, but Josh Ritter’s music moves me in a way that Morrissey does not.
  • Unlike Paula, who has an A+ in the class, Eric’s history textbook looks like it hasn’t been opened all year.
  • Because I stubbed my toe on the way to the bathroom the other night, my left foot’s big toenail is a different color than my right foot.
  • Often referred to simply as The Boss, Bruce Springsteen holds up against any other songwriter’s lyrics.

Because faulty comparisons are fairly easy to spot in simple sentences, the writers of the SAT will usually hide them in more complex sentences, and will often try to slip one by you by comparing someone’s stuff to someone else. Here are the same sentences as above, with the actual things being compared in underlined and in bold.

  • The battery in my new laptop is way better than my old computer, which had to stay plugged in all the time.
  • I like both singers, but Josh Ritter’s music moves me in a way that Morrissey does not.
  • Unlike Paula, who has an A+ in the class, Eric’s history textbook looks like it hasn’t been opened all year.
  • Because I stubbed my toe on the way to the bathroom the other night, my left foot’s big toenail is a different color than my right foot.
  • Often referred to simply as The Boss, Bruce Springsteen holds up against any other songwriter’s lyrics.

This is why I like to tell students to watch out anytime an “‘s” exists in a sentence. If that “‘s” indicates possession, there’s a decent chance that it’s setting up a faulty comparison between someone’s stuff, and someone else.

Let’s fix all those sentences, huh?

  • The battery in my new laptop is way better than my old computer‘s battery; my old computer had to stay plugged in all the time.
  • I like both singers, but Josh Ritter’s music moves me in a way that Morrissey‘s does not.
  • Unlike Paula, who has an A+ in the class, Eric appears not to have opened his history textbook all year.
  • Because I stubbed my toe on the way to the bathroom the other night, my left foot’s big toenail is a different color than is the one on my right foot.
  • Often referred to simply as The Boss, Bruce Springsteen holds up against any other songwriter.

Of course, there are many ways to fix each of these. What matters is that I’ve made all the comparisons consistent, and not created any other errors in the process.

Remember: always compare people to people and things to things; never compare a person to another person’s STUFF.