The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary defines come off worse as the following:

to lose a fight, competition, etc. or suffer more compared with others

I am wondering whether "compared with" can properly be used with "more" in standardized tests such as the SAT (and therefore in standard written English).

  • 3
    So let me get this straight. You want us to agree with you that the people at Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary don't know how to use English properly? Nothing doing! If it helps, think of the "redundant" word when as having been "deleted" before compared. Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 16:20
  • IMO, they should be defining the phrasal verb come off. Do they have an entry for come off better? worse is a red herring. There! How was that take? How did that come off?
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 20:46
  • @FumbleFingers Actually, I suspect "than" should be used in place of "compared with," For example, we say "John is taller than me," not "John is taller compared with me."
    – Apollyon
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 22:13
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo You're right, but they have also provided a more general entry that covers not only "come off worse" but also "come off better," "come off well," etc.
    – Apollyon
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 22:59

4 Answers 4


The other answers have addressed the matter of correctness and parsing: the phrase is 'suffer more', and that's compared with 'others'. This answer addresses the issue of why the phrasing works, given that the phrasing 'suffer more than others' is more familiar to you.

Choice of phrase often depends on context. Here, the context is a dictionary entry for the phrase "come off worse". The word worse is a very important component of this phrase. Since it is fundamentally a comparison, the example highlights the comparative aspect ("compared with").

The phrase "suffer more than others" highlights the suffering of the unnamed person. Changing than to compared with shifts the stress to the comparison.

  1. Peter suffers more than John.
  2. Peter suffers more(,) compared with (or to) John.

In English, stress is sometimes expressed by using 'less common' or 'more unusual' phrasing - the phrasing is said to be marked.

In linguistics and social sciences, markedness is the state of standing out as unusual or divergent in comparison to a more common or regular form. In a marked–unmarked relation, one term of an opposition is the broader, dominant one. The dominant default or minimum-effort form is known as unmarked; the other, secondary one is marked. In other words, markedness involves the characterization of a "normal" linguistic unit against one or more of its possible "irregular" forms. - wikipedia

It's arguable that 'compared with' is the marked form, compared with 'than' in that context. Alternatively, one might argue that the stress was created by using the longer phrase, or simply that the comparison was made explicit by using the word "compared". Whichever the case, the focus is on the comparison.

Finally, a note about the parsing. Having read the quote several times, I think the natural parsing is:

  • [to lose a (fight, competition, etc.)] or [(suffer more) compared with others].

In particular, "compared with others" only applies to "suffer more", not to losing the fight and so on.

  • Your answer makes more sense than others. Still, I seem to remember that "compared with" is used with the base form of an adjective or adverb, not one with "more" or -er. This seems to be a testing point on some exams. If the definition used "to lose a fight, competition, etc. or suffer a lot compared with others," I wouldn't bat an eyelid.
    – Apollyon
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 12:55
  • @Apollyon Would it help to swap the phrase around to say, "compared with others, [they] suffered more"? This looks pretty innocuous to me, grammatically. It's essentially equivalent to the original, "they suffered more[,] compared with others". I think "compared with" can take a whole proposition. Consider the example you accept: "compared with others" takes the proposition "[they] suffer a lot" - it doesn't take just "a lot". On that count, I don't see much difference grammatically between "they suffer a lot" and "they suffer more". Both are propositions.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 13:40
  • It's a matter of style. One could argue the comparative form of "worse" already makes it clear that a comparison is being made, so "compared with" is a wordy alternative to "than."
    – Apollyon
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 13:44
  • Have you taken the SAT or GMAT? I suspect this is a point featured on the exams.
    – Apollyon
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 13:45
  • Please see this thread forum.wordreference.com/threads/…
    – Apollyon
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 13:46

You're parsing the sentence incorrectly. It's not more compared with, as a phrase, but fight, competition, etc. or suffer more that fit together as a phrase. It is a list, clarified below.

  • [to lose a] fight
  • [to lose a] competition
  • etc.
  • [or to] suffer more

That said, etc. and suffer more would seem redundant... but who am I to argue with OALD? I'd surely come off worse.

  • You are missing the verb "suffer,"
    – Apollyon
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 22:14
  • I am not parsing the definition incorrectly. "Suffer more" should be interpreted together because "more" is a comparative modifier. For example, we say "I ate more than my brother yesterday," But if "more" is used in this sense, the connector should be "than," not "compared with."
    – Apollyon
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 23:04
  • 1
    "Suffer more" does go together, but "compared with others" is a separate clause. Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 23:15

In general, comparisons use "more than". Alice suffers more than Bob. You might hear someone say "Alice suffers more compared with Bob", but it's not standard.

The definition you quoted is different because it doesn't mean "suffer more than others" but rather, "suffer more, in the context of being compared with others". That's why they used the modifier "compared with others" to modify the whole sentence.

  • Could you clarify the difference between "suffer more than others" and "suffer more, in the context of being compared with others"?
    – Apollyon
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 10:26
  • What I mean is that the dictionary is defining "come off worse" as a phrase that indicates a comparison with others is made, and that the conclusion of the comparison is that the subject suffers more. But actually I'm also inclined to agree with Lawrence's answer that it acts as a marked form. But I agree with your suspicion that "more compared with" could be marked wrong on formal English tests. Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 22:27
  • And for stylistic reasons. That's because "worse than others" iunambiguously sets up a comparison between one person and others, so why bother using the more wordy "compared with others"? In other words, "worse than others" is clear enough, so there seems no need to use "compared with others."
    – Apollyon
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 22:29

What the lexicographer is trying to say is this:

To come off worse is to emerge from something in a worse state as compared with others, that is, not as compared to one's own former state. It means to fare worse than another who has undergone the same thing.

Candidate K. came off worse in the debate.

  • I kind of see what you mean; you are saying "compared with others" is used to draw a comparison between two or more people. But "suffer more than others" can also be used to mean a contrast between two or more people, can't it? Are you suggesting "compared with others" in the OP definition is more specific?
    – Apollyon
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 10:33
  • @Apollyon: I explained what I meant in the answer. "...that is, not as compared to one's own former state". Of the two candidates, Candidate X came off worse in the debate. X performed poorly compared to Y, even though it may have been X's best performance ever.
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 18:33
  • But "worse than others" is already comparing a person with others. It cannot be interpreted as a comparison between one person and his former state.
    – Apollyon
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 22:21
  • @Apollyon. The lexicographer is not giving you an example phrase there, not an example of usage, but is explaining the nature of the comparison. You are misunderstanding what is happening in the dictionary entry.
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 22:50
  • Well, that's interesting. I never thought a lexicographical work could violate the stylistic standard known as brevity. "Worse than others" is clear enough, with no room for ambiguity or misunderstanding, isn't it?
    – Apollyon
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 22:58

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