Updated Nov. 30, 2012


Comparing and Contrasting Two Things



One of the most common speaking test questions asks you to compare (and contrast) two things, A and B. (See Note 1)

Comparing and contrasting are two different things, although they are similar and they usually go together in the same answer. (See Note 2)

In the IELTS speaking test, the most frequently used examples of the two things, A and B to compare are:

  1. males/females  (boys and girls; men and women)

  2. old/young  (‘old’ can mean your parents' age and older; ‘young’ means about 15 to 30 years old)

  3. urban/rural  (city and country)

  4. children/adults  (‘children’ are from about 3 to 12 years of age; ‘adults’ are over 18 years old)

  5. today/before  (‘before’ usually means 20 to 50 years previously)

As well as these frequently used examples of A and B, the topic of the question can suggest other examples of A and B. For example, when talking about the news, obvious comparisons can be drawn between the different types of news media newspapers, TV, radio, the internet, and news magazines. Some of these other examples of A & B are listed on this page.

See Note 3 for a suggested study idea.


The Wording of Compare Questions

Sometimes the examiner actually uses the word ‘compare’ in these questions but not always, especially in Part 1. The examiner might just ask you if you think there is a difference between A & B, or if A is the same as B, or if A is better than B, or if something has changed in the past few decades or whether you prefer A or B. After you have read this page, you will be able to recognize that whenever the examiner mentions two things, such as ‘old people and young people’ he or she usually expects you to include the language of comparison in your answer.

Some questions that require you to make comparisons are in the form of ‘Yes/No questions, ‘Prefer’ questions or ‘Opinion’ questions. For these questions, first answer the basic questions (“Yes” or “No”, or what you prefer, or what your opinion is) and then in the second part of your answer, give more details, especially your reasons why you said that and this involves (more or less) making a comparison. For example, “Do you prefer to get your news from newspapers or from TV?”

A similar situation exists for questions that ask you about changes that have taken place (in China). Here’s an example: Has the style of furniture in Chinese people's homes changed in recent years? For this question, you first say that, yes, the style has changed. A typical answer should continue with comparative statements such as, “ people now buy more luxurious and more fashionable furniture than they did 30 years ago.

After you have read and studied this page, you should practice making answers to as many of the ‘compare questions’ that are listed on this website as possible. You can find them on this page: List of 'Compare Questions' from this website. (This list contains most of them I might have missed a few.)


Review  Comparative Adjectives


Example adjectives

Comparative Adjectives

Type 1: 一个音节


“A is bigger than B.”

Type 2:  两个音节跟, ending with ‘y’


“People are much busier today than they used to be.”

Type 3: 其它的 (not Type 1 or Type 2)


“It’s more expensive to study English overseas than in China.”


quiet, quieter

simple, simpler

The Collins Cobuild English Grammar also lists 15 adjectives that follow the 'rules' above and use the Type 3 form of comparative adjective but also can use the Type 1 form of comparative adjective. For example, you can say or write A is more common than B or, A is commoner than B. These are all two-syllable adjectives, not ending in 'y' and therefore belonging to Type 3. If you just follow the 'rules' as stated above and don't worry about these variations, you will be always be correct.

These 15 adjectives are shown in the table below.

common           handsome          narrow              polite                simple

cruel                 likely                 obscure             remote              stupid

gentle                mature               pleasant            shallow             subtle


Irregular Adjectives 

(The superlative form is shown here but it is not needed for comparing two things.)


Comparative Adjective

Superlative Adjective


better than

the best


worse than

the worst

little (non-count)

less than

the least

few (count)

fewer than

the fewest/the least

much (non-count)

more than

the most

many (count)

more than

the most



How to Compare and Contrast

·  The main way to compare is to use the three different types of sentences that are shown in this table.

Type 1: A positive Statement Using a Comparative Adjective

Type 2: A negative Statement using not as + adjective

Type 3: A contrasting Statement

  A is bigger than B

B is not as big as A

A is big but B is small


Extra notes on these three types of sentences 


Some More Suggestions

      When comparing two things, is it good enough just to talk about the advantages and disadvantages?

     Compare, don't just describe

     How to speak fluently and show good coherence

My first suggestion is this: Think aloud, i.e., speak what you are thinking – show the examiner your thinking process. 

For example, make a general statement at the beginning, before you even start comparing. This will help you focus on the question and it will give you a little time to gather some ideas. As well as that, by beginning with a general statement, you are also showing good coherence because showing your thinking process (your logic) will help the listener understand the meaning and the logic of what follows that. 

Some examples of general statements are: “Oh, there’s a big difference between the two.” Or, “Well, there are several major differences between the two.” Or, “Well, they’re quite similar in many ways but ....” These are all quite good to use but they are not 'wonderful' beginnings because they state rather obvious things or they state things that are just too general. Don't forget, good communication involves the exchange of information and, although there is some good information contained in those sentences, they could be better. So, if you are still unsure of what are some good points of comparison between A & B after you make such a very general statement, the next sentence should be another general statement, but coming closer to actually talking about the differences (or similarities) between A & B. The more difficult it is to think of differences between A & B, the more general things you need to say at the beginning – it's kind of like having a ‘discussion with yourself’ in order to gather your thoughts.

These general statements should be about the first things that come to your mind, i.e., the most obvious but still rather general differences between A & B. Many candidates actually say the words, “(Well,) the first thing that comes to my mind is ...”. This is quite a good thing to say but, if you think about it, that sentence says something rather obvious – if it's the first thing you say, then obviously it's the first thing that comes to your mind! Another reason to be a little wary of that sentence is the fact that it tends to be overused in the speaking test because it's in many model answers in IELTS speaking test books. Don't misunderstand me – I'm not suggesting you don't use that sentence at all because it's quite a good thing to say but I do suggest you be a little careful about using it and I certainly suggest you don't use it more than once in the speaking test. 

Let's look at some more examples of a general statement. If the examiner asks you: “Are the houses in the rural parts of China the same as houses in the cities?” you could begin by making the following general observation: “Well, most people in the rural parts of China are farmers who don't have as much money as people in the cities so ...” Notice that the general observation leads you to a conclusion, which you begin by using the word, “so”. You could even pause (for a very short period of time) to consider what conclusions you can draw from your general observation – a short pause is natural when you are considering something. Some obvious conclusions, (following the word “so”) for this answer are: “... so most rural houses are cheaper and simpler than those in the cities. ” 

To repeat: These general statements are especially useful when you still haven't thought of what to say but it also shows good coherence to begin your answer with a general statement (or two) even when you do know exactly what comparisons you are going to say between A & B

Other general statements you could make are: “Well, China's countryside is not as well developed as the cities so ...” ( “... so most homes in the countryside are rather old, simple and cheap while those in the cities are mostly now new, modern apartments, which are quite expensive to buy.”) Or: “Well, the cities in China are quite crowded so ...” ( “... so land is very expensive and most people live in flats whereas most people in the countryside live in small houses in villages and they often have a small yard around the house, with a garden and chickens or a pig in the yard.”

You could also give this kind of answer: “Actually, most people in the cities don't live in houses, they live in flats, which are often quite modern and expensive but most people in the countryside do live in small, rather cheap houses in villages, near their farmland.” This answer compares rural & city housing by contrasting the two.

Here's another example question: “Compare the sports that boys play with those that girls play.

Answer: “Well, ... let me think ... boys are more aggressive than girls so ... so boys' sports often involve more pushing and physical contact than girls' sports. For example, in boys' basketball, players try to grab the ball from the player who has the ball but that is not allowed in girls' basketball.


Some Example Answers

[Notice that, although comparative adjectives are important when comparing, they are not the only grammatical form that you can use. For example, you can also use comparative adverbs such as, "more seriously".]

1.  Compare how adults spend their leisure time with how children spend their leisure time. 

Well, young children of course like to play, especially with toys or play games such as ‘hide and seek’ with their friends. Adults, on the other hand, are usually more goal-oriented in their leisure time activities. For example, they decide to go out with friends or do some exercise or read a book. But there are some things that both groups have in common. For example, almost everybody watches some TV from time to time.  

2.  Compare old houses and modern houses. Which do people prefer to live in?

     Most old houses in China tend to have a smaller floor area than newer apartments and are not as well equipped as modern houses and apartments. For example, some of the old houses don’t have central heating and some, such as those in the alleyways of old Beijing, don’t even have their own toilets. So, of course, most people prefer to live in modern apartments if they can afford it although some people choose to live in older apartments because they are either closer to their workplace, closer to their parents or closer to the city centre than most newly-built apartments.

3.  Compare watching films with reading books.

Well, I think that watching films is a rather passive pursuit, compared to reading books because by reading you are exercising the brain and improving your language ability. In other words, depending on what books you read, you can learn a lot more than from films most films are purely for entertainment. Not only that, most films appeal to the ‘lowest common denominator’. By that I mean films usually just appeal to people’s interest in romance or excitement  things that help sell the film but with books, there’s a much wider range of topics to choose from, to suit all tastes and interests and these topics are treated more seriously and in greater depth than the topics in films.


Fill-in Exercise

Choose the most suitable comparative adjective to fill in each empty space. Each of these choices is used only once.

a) more convenient   b) more functional   c) more necessary   d) less strict  e) more up-to-date   f) less interested   g) more sophisticated   h) more competitive   i) slower-paced  j) more spacious   k) more attractively  (This is a comparative adverb.)  l) greater    m) less developed   n) quieter  o) better educated   p) simpler   q) more professional   r) more mellow   s) friendlier


  1. Men are usually much ____________________ in shopping than women. Men go shopping in order to buy what they need but a lot of women find enjoyment in the shopping experience itself – they’re not just interested in getting what they need. 

  1. In general, grandparents are ________________ with their grandchildren than the parents. I guess it’s because they have a __________________ attitude towards life.

  1. Generally speaking, city people are ________________ and _________________than country people. 

  1. The countryside is certainly__________ than the city but some small cities in China are quite noisy. 

  1. Children today do face more challenges than children of my parents’ generation, one of the reasons being that life today is ____________________ than it used to be.

  1. Modern apartments are ___________________than those built 40 or 50 years ago.

  1. Modern buildings are usually  ____________________ designed than those built a few years ago. 

  1. The information in magazines is usually ________________  than that in books because new editions of magazines are published every few weeks.

  1. There’s a ____________ emphasis on the quality of life in cities than there is in rural areas.

  1. Office furniture is usually _____________ and ___________________ than home furniture.

  1. Practical skills are ____________________ for everyday life than academic skills.

  1. Customer service in department stores and big supermarkets is usually  _____________________ than it is in small, family-owned shops. On the other hand, if you're a regular customer at a small shop, the owner is usually ____________ than the employees at the big shops. 

  1. It’s _______________________ for me to take the subway than to go to work by bus. 

  1. Life when my parents were young was _______________ than it is today.

  1. The educational and health facilities in the countryside are _________________ compared to those in the big cities such as Beijing.