Earthquakes correspond to a displacement of rock beneath the surface.

Can "correspond to" be used in the above sentence and what does it mean exactly? Is it a synonym of "are"?

  • 2
    What are you trying to say? Are you trying to define what an earthquake is, or explain what the cause of an earthquake is, or say that an earthquake is the visible sign of a displacement of rock beneath the surface? ("Are/is/be" are fine in formal writing, and using a longer word unnecessarily is bad writing.)
    – Stuart F
    Sep 13, 2023 at 9:34

2 Answers 2


English speakers would know what you meant by that sentence, but would not say it that way themselves.

At its heart "correspond" as you tried to use it is about comparing two different items, identifying that which is similar or matching about them. For example, here are a couple of examples from Merriam-Webster:

  1. The number of ballots cast should correspond to the number of people present.
  2. In some countries, the role of president corresponds to that of prime minister.

In both these examples, correspond highlights that which is common to two different things. "Ballots cast" and "people present" are not the same, but if the count is the same, then there is a correspondence of number. "President" and "prime minister" are not the same, but in some respects there may be matching roles and this would create a correspondence.

But in your example there aren't really two different things. The displacement of rock beneath the surface is the earthquake. You haven't compared two things; you've defined one thing. You can see this better if you consider this sentence:

  1. The sharp jump on the seismograph [a device used to measure earthquakes] corresponded to the displacement of rocks beneath the surface.
  • I upvoted for this answer, but saying that "the displacement of rock beneath the surface is the earthquake" is not totally true, because there is a continuous displacement in Earth's lithosphere, that only triggers earthquakes when a sudden release of energy occurs.
    – Graffito
    Sep 13, 2023 at 11:53
  • That may well be true, but you're talking there about the science perspective, not the English language perspective. Scientists may tell us that "Earthquake equals displacement of rock" is a bad definition, but the point here is that we are still talking definition rather than correspondence. Sep 16, 2023 at 13:59

In the sentence, "Earthquakes correspond to a displacement of rock beneath the surface," "correspond to" is not used in the same way as "are," "are caused by," or "can be defined as." "Correspond to" is used here to indicate a relationship or similarity between earthquakes and the displacement of rock beneath the surface, but it does not imply identity, causation, or a strict definition.

You are correct in noting that "correspond to" suggests an analogy or link between two things rather than an identity. It's used to describe a relationship where one thing is related to or associated with another, but they are not necessarily the same thing.

If you're looking for a formal synonym for "are" that can be used in this context to enrich your vocabulary, you might consider using "entail," "involve," or "signify." Here are some alternative sentences:

  1. "Earthquakes entail a displacement of rock beneath the surface."
  2. "Earthquakes involve a displacement of rock beneath the surface."
  3. "Earthquakes signify a displacement of rock beneath the surface."

These alternatives maintain a formal tone and convey a sense of the relationship between earthquakes and the displacement of rock without using "correspond to" in a way that might be less precise in this context.

  • Earthquakes result from or are the result of.
    – Greg Bacon
    Sep 13, 2023 at 17:45

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