If I am comparing "thee" to "a summer's day", in other words comparing for equality a == b

What are the proper terms that relate to a and b?
I'd call == the comparator, maybe a the subject.. b the object?

I looked here and they only mention 'entities' http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparative

  • I'm not sure equality is central to the usage. Often (including, I think, Shakespeare's usage there) to compare A to B simply means evaluate A by the same criteria you would normally associate with B. In the case of the Shakespearean sonnet, A and B are clearly not "equal", since the woman wins out by every criterion. – FumbleFingers May 1 '14 at 22:28
  • You probably should provide the actual sentence, that is if you want it parsed for its elements. A decent modern grammar textbook ought to provide a section on comparative constructions, and the related terminology that they use. – F.E. May 8 '14 at 17:07
  • If I am comparing "thee" to "a summer's day", in other words comparing for equality a == b is completely incorrect. That isn't what "compare" means in this context. – MrHen May 13 '14 at 15:46
  • if I am doing the comparing, then the context is correct :) I foolishly tried to make a sentence in the hopes it would be useful. my bad. I just want to know (as per the question itself) the technical terms for a comparative. entities as I found, is too broad. it seems strange our language doesn't have (well known) terms for all the parts. – Sassafras_wot May 20 '14 at 5:39

The Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar (p77) has this extract in its entry on comparison:

In comparative clauses introduced by than or as, whatever is represented by the adjective, adverb etc. that functions as the comparative element is sometimes called the standard of comparison, and the basis of comparison is whoever or whatever is being compared in the comparative clause, Thus in Pete is happier than Paul, the standard of comparison is happiness and the basis of comparison is Paul.

If we rewrite Shakespeare's famous line as:

You are more beautiful than a summer's day

then the standard of comparison is beauty and the basis of comparison is a summer's day. And you could say that you is the subject of the comparison.

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  • I like your answer. the subject's standard - is equal, is greater than, is less than (the comparator) - to the basis. very cool. – Sassafras_wot May 20 '14 at 5:49

How about "tenor" and "vehicle"?

In my literature class, these are the terms we use when describing the objects in a metaphor, where the "tenor" refers to the object being described and the "vehicle" refers to the image that carries "the weight of comparison," that to which you are comparing the tenor.

In your example, "thee" would be the tenor, and "a summer's day" the vehicle.

Here is an excerpt from Encyclopedia Britannica:

Tenor and vehicle, the components of a metaphor, with the tenor referring to the concept, object, or person meant, and the vehicle being the image that carries the weight of the comparison. The words were first used in this sense by the critic I.A. Richards.


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  • this is avery cool answer..and along the lines of my question..the technical names for the parts of a comparison..my example might have been a bit weak (to you guys) but maybe I'm uneducated and unable to come up with a better sentence :P anyways, my only issue is these are very abstract terms that sound more like they were randomly grabbed from other diciplines. hmm – Sassafras_wot May 20 '14 at 5:35
  • Edited to included an excerpt from the link, and a fun fact – user96872 Dec 23 '15 at 3:33

Are you asking what the 'to' is called in the sentence 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day'?

I'm not sure there is a specific label for what 'to' is doing in this instance. 'To' is merely a preposition doing one of its many jobs - in this example, defining a relationship between one thing and another.

In terms of sentence structure, 'I' is the subject, 'thee' is the direct object and 'summer's day' is the indirect object.

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