To prepare for the next monthly exam, our teacher wrote a sample essay that included this sentence:

Sport is to our life what exercise is to our body.

But the teacher herself cannot explain the structure of this sentence :(

Is it correct? I think

(What sport is (to our life) ) is (what exercise is (to our body) ).

is the correct expression.

  • What do you mean that you cannot analyze it? Where is there a mistake?
    – tchrist
    Oct 8, 2023 at 13:14
  • You might instead say "(The relationship of sport to our life) is similar to (the relationship of exercise to our body)." There is a curious plural/singular form in "our life" and then again in "our body".
    – Henry
    Oct 8, 2023 at 13:26
  • 1
    The initial sentence is fine, A reordering is 'What exercise is to our body. sport is to our life.' This sort of comparison is known as a proportionality [relation]. Better known is the mathematical variety, 'A is to B as C is to D' or 'A : B :: C : D'. The comparison in maths is confined to ratios: 'the scale factor between A and B is the same as that between C and D'. Thus 17 : 119 :: 8 : 56 (identical scale factor, 7). Oct 8, 2023 at 13:26
  • 2
    As is more common than what in this construction. Oct 8, 2023 at 15:42
  • Understood. My English is really "Chinglish" :(
    – KaiKai
    Oct 8, 2023 at 16:17

1 Answer 1


The simple answer is yes, "A is to B what C is to D" is a common and natural structure.

It means A's relationship to B is the same as C's relationship to D.

So, for example, if you know that A is B's daughter, then you also know that C is D's daughter.

Or if you want to express to a soccer fan that Wayne Gretzky is the greatest hockey player of all time, you might say, Gretzky is to hockey what Messi is to soccer.

So about your example sentence, I think the words are poetic nonsense, but a clearer way to say the same thing is:

Sport has the same role in our lives that exercise has for our body.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .