Is "compared with" in the sentence below a participle phrase?

If so, why shouldn't a comma precede it? If not, what role is it playing?

The number of people who regularly eat fast food was much higher compared with the prior year.


3 Answers 3


The number of people who regularly eat fast food was much higher compared with the prior year.

The italicized part is most certainly a past-participial clause (or phrase if you prefer).

If it were not, then we'd have to class compared as either an adjective or a preposition. As an adjective it would fail to function predicatively:

*The numbers became compared (with the prior year).

*He made the numbers compared (with the prior year).

And there is simply no reason to class it as a preposition since it does not have different syntactic or semantic properties than the verb compare.

Further, this string fits in other constructions that allow a past participial clause:

The numbers were/got compared with the prior year. [passive]

We had/got/saw the numbers compared with the prior year. [complex catenative]

When compared with the prior year, the number of people who regularly eat fast food was much higher. [complement of when]

There is no need to move it to a different category if its use can be explained by properties common to all past participles of transitive verbs.

As far as the comma goes, that's punctuation and opinions differ, so put a comma there if you like. In any case, it's an adjunct (modifier or supplement) in clause structure - not syntactically licensed by any of the other parts of the sentence, free to move around, not required.

  • The point is that "compared with" is not a constituent but just part of a larger PP.
    – BillJ
    Commented Sep 10, 2023 at 8:48
  • @BillJ Agreed that it's part of a larger element. I'd be very interested in the reasoning behind classing compared with the prior year as a preposition phrase.
    – DW256
    Commented Sep 10, 2023 at 9:09
  • The stock answer to the question why are items such as "according", "excluding" , "excepting" etc. preps is that there is no possibility of them having an understood subject. CGEL doesn't include "compared" on pp610-611, but it seems reasonable to add it to the list. Perhaps "compared with" should be considered a compound prep. See also user424874's answer.
    – BillJ
    Commented Sep 10, 2023 at 10:14
  • @BillJ In this case is the missing subject of compared not controlled by the subject of the matrix clause the number of people who regularly eat fast food? Is it not these numbers that were compared with the prior year?
    – DW256
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 1:17

I do note that some answers here favor the participle phrase/clause analysis, others the prepositional phrase analysis.

However, I noticed that "compared with" in the sentence can be substituted with "than" classified as a preposition in modern grammar.

"The number of people who regularly eat fast food was much higher than the prior year."

By that reasoning, I'll go with the prepositional phrase analysis.

Edit: DW256 convinced me in the comment section that "than" and "compared with" don't have any syntactic equivalence.

But what about "unlike"?

It looks like it can have a similar meaning to "compared with" in the sentence, whether you put it in front or when the comparative -"er" is not present: Unlike the prior year, the number of people who regularly eat fast food was high(er). CGEL treats "unlike" as a preposition.

That for me counts in favor of the prepositional phrase analysis.

  • It can't always replace than: "it was better than expected" is fine, but "it was better compared with expected" is wrong.
    – alphabet
    Commented Sep 10, 2023 at 11:57
  • @alphabet I agree. "Compared with" needs an NP as a complement: "It was better compared with/than what was expected." Would that work?
    – user424874
    Commented Sep 10, 2023 at 12:36
  • They are both fine. "It was better compared with what was expected" works because "What was expected" is an NP,
    – BillJ
    Commented Sep 10, 2023 at 13:52
  • @BillJ I got your attention! Haha. Just want to let you know I'm fond of reading your answers on this site. I learned a lot from them. Haven't got the chance to comment on your answers/comments since I haven't got that privilege.
    – user424874
    Commented Sep 10, 2023 at 13:57
  • 1
    What's important is that, while "compared with" takes an NP, "than" takes a comparative clause; comparative clauses are weird and the rules around them don't make any sense.
    – alphabet
    Commented Sep 10, 2023 at 14:43

That depends. Many people would say that it wasn't a phrase because it was missing a complement. Thus, the complete phrase would be "compared with the prior year" (as noted by PaulTanenbaum in a comment).

Whether it's a participle phrase depends on whether you consider "compared" to be a participle. I do, but others might not (as noted by Araucaria in a comment).

It does not need a comma because it is "essential" (in the grammatical sense of that term). The author apparently believes that the sentence would lose some important information without it (and I agree). If that part of the sentence wasn't so important—perhaps that information was already indicated earlier and the writer only wants to remind the audience of it again—then it could be surrounded by paired punctuation. I'd probably use parentheses instead of commas:

The number of people who regularly eat fast food was much higher (compared with the prior year).

  • "Compared with" is not a constituent, so it doesn't have the status of a phrase; rather, it's just part of the larger phrase "compared with the prior year". Btw, "compared" is a preposition so "compared with the prior year" is a PP.
    – BillJ
    Commented Sep 10, 2023 at 8:19

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