Let’s start by seeing how you can talk about big differences. Our topic for this section is travel.
1. How to Talk About Big Differences
Maria: So, you went to Vietnam and Laos, right? What did you think?
Olivier: They were both great, but totally different. It’s hard to compare them. It’s strange, really, because they’re so close geographically, but in other ways they’re almost nothing alike.
M: What was the biggest difference?
O: I’d say the pace of life. In Vietnam everything moves so much faster. Laos is way more relaxed.
M: Which did you like better?
O: It’s hard to say. I liked them both, but for different reasons.
In this short dialogue, you saw five phrases you can use to talk about two things which are very different. Do you remember what they were?
If two things are very different, you can say:
- They’re totally different.
- It’s hard to compare them.
- They’re almost nothing alike.
These are fixed phrases, but you can adapt them to express different ideas. For example:
- They’re so different.
- It’s impossible to compare them.
- They’re nothing alike.
You can also use a comparative adjective or adverb. For example, in the dialogue, you heard:
- Everything moves so much faster.
- Laos is way more relaxed.
Before a comparative, you can add an intensifier like much, so much, or way to show that you’re talking about a big difference. Using way is more conversational.
You can use these in many different situations; for example:
- Lisbon is much cheaper than most European cities.
- The museum was so much more interesting than I expected.
- Shanghai is way bigger than anywhere I’ve been before.
There’s a common mistake which English learners often make here with much and more.
If you need more, it’s part of the comparative, like more interesting. If you add much, it adds emphasis and shows that you’re talking about a large difference. Don’t say things like:
- Tokyo is much expensive than other Asian cities.
- The food in Mexico was much more cheaper than in the States.
Can you correct these sentences?
- Tokyo is much more expensive than other Asian cities.
- The food in Mexico was much
more cheaper than in the States.
These are common mistakes, so be careful!
Now, let’s see how you can talk about things which are very similar. In this section, we’re going to talk about describing people.
2. How to Describe Close Similarities
O: Have you met his brother?
M: Yeah! They’re so alike; I could hardly tell them apart! I kept mixing up their names.
O: I know! It’s weird, right? They could be twins.
M: It’s funny because they look so similar, and they seem to have the same personality, too. Equally chatty, equally funny…
O: His brother is just as sarcastic as he is, too.
M: Yeah, true.
Again, you heard five phrases to describe people who are very similar. Do you remember them? If you want to find them yourself, you can go back and listen to the dialogue again. Try to write them down.
If two people are very similar, you could say:
- They’re so alike.
- I can hardly tell them apart.
- They look so similar.
- They’re equally chatty.
- He’s just as sarcastic as his brother.
Of course, you can adapt these phrases; for example:
- The way they talk is so similar.
- They’re equally funny.
- She’s just as impatient as her mother.
Here’s a task for you: can you think of two people you know who are very similar? Write down three sentences to describe them, using the language you just saw. Pause the video and do it now!
You’ve seen how to use this language to talk about people, but you can use the same phrases to talk about many different things; for example:
- I can hardly tell these two wines apart.
- I hated both cities; they’re equally terrible.
- Playing golf is just as boring as watching it.
Continue practicing with this Oxford Online English lesson: Talking About Likes and Dislikes.
Next, you’re going to see how to talk about small differences. Our topic for the next section? Sports!
3. How to Describe Small Differences
M: Good game, right?
O: Yeah, it was. They played a bit better than last week, I thought.
M: Yup. They were just a little sharper in those key moments.
O: I thought the keeper did slightly better, too. He wasn’t quite as hesitant as he was last week, and you could see the defence looked more solid.
M: They looked good going forward, too. They were just a touch faster moving the ball around.
O: True. They weren’t doing that last week.
Again, you heard five phrases to talk about small differences. Can you remember them? Again, you can review the dialogue and write them down if you want to find them yourself.
When talking about small differences, you can use a modifier plus a comparative adjective or adverb, like this:
- They played a bit better.
- They were just a little sharper.
- The keeper did slightly better.
- They were a touch faster.
You can also use quite as… as… to show that two things are slightly different, like this:
- He wasn’t quite as hesitant as he was last week.
In the dialogue, we were talking about a football match that we both saw, but you can use these phrases and structures to talk about many different topics. For example:
- Taking the train will be a bit faster.
- She’s a little older than her husband.
- This isn’t quite as spicy as the last time you made it.
Let’s look at one more topic. In the next section, we’re going to talk about food.
4. How to Describe Minor Similarities
O: What did you think?
M: It was tasty, but the dishes didn’t vary much. Everything tasted much the same.
O: Yeah, I know what you mean. Did you try the shrimp?
M: Yeah. That was probably the best, but the main dishes were all pretty similar. Tomato, sweet, slightly spicy… Maybe we just didn’t order the right things.
O: I don’t think it’s that. I’ve been there before, and it was more or less like tonight.
M: It was a bit disappointing, especially for the price. It was nearly as expensive as that Japanese place we went to for my birthday!
O: Yeah, I know. Let’s not go back.
Here, we were talking about a bad restaurant, where everything tasted almost the same.
Of course, talking about close similarities is similar to talking about minor differences. The only difference is your focus. If two things are slightly different, you can use different language depending on whether you want to focus on the differences or the similarities.
In this dialogue, you heard five phrases to describe slight similarities. Can you remember them?
- The dishes didn’t vary much.
- Everything tasted much the same.
- The main dishes were all pretty similar.
- It was more or less like tonight.
- It was nearly as expensive as that Japanese place we went to for my birthday.
Of course, you can adapt these phrases to talk about different things; for example:
- Apartments here don’t vary much.
- You can do it today or tomorrow—it’s much the same to me.
- A lot of small towns in the UK are pretty similar.
- There are different versions of rugby, but the basic idea is more or less the same.
- My nephew is almost as tall as me now!
Now, you should know how to talk about differences and similarities in different ways.
Let’s see how you can put everything you’ve learned together.
5. Making a Longer Answer
Of course, when you’re speaking or writing naturally, you don’t necessarily want to talk about only big differences, or only similarities. You may need to use a range of different language.
You’re going to see two longer answers on different topics, using a range of language from this lesson.
First, let’s see an answer comparing two cities: Moscow and St Petersburg:
- If you visit Russia, you should definitely visit both Moscow and St Petersburg. They’re completely different cities. St Petersburg feels much more European than Moscow, while Moscow is a bit grittier, but very interesting. Things like accommodation, food, transport and so on are much the same in both places. It’s slightly easier to find a cheaper place to stay in St Petersburg, but Moscow has a bit more variety when it comes to eating out. To get around, take the metro, which is just as efficient in both cities.
Have you been to Moscow or St Petersburg? What would you add to our description? You can let us know in the comments!
Let’s look at one more longer example. This time, we’re going to compare working at home with working in an office.
- It’s hard to compare working at home and working in an office. People think that working at home would be much more relaxing, but that’s not always true. You still have to do just as much work, so it can be equally stressful. Of course, you have slightly more freedom to plan your own day, but you also have to be a bit more responsible, because otherwise you end up wasting a lot of time. In the end, you save time commuting, but most people waste a little more time, so you spend nearly as much time working as if you just went to work.
Can you see how this answer uses different phrases and structures from the lesson to compare these two points? What do you think about this topic? Would you prefer to work at home, or work in an office? Let us know in the comments.
Finally, could you make a longer answer like this? You could compare two cities you’ve visited, two different cuisines, two people you know, or something else. You can use this language to talk about almost anything!
Thanks for watching!