July 25, 2013

Weekly Language Usage Tips: Comparative: as…as

Posted in as...as, comparative adjectives/adverbs at 6:40 am by dlseltzer

Tip: Comparative: as…as

A reader writes:

Did I write you about this before?  Can this sentence reasonably stop after ‘violations?’  Can it stop after ‘establishments?’ Thanks.

“Not surprisingly, larger establishments (over 200 employees) were about half as likely to be cited for serious violations as smaller establishments were.”

I didn’t know what to call this edition of wlut. I thought about it and was leaning toward “Where the sentence ends,” but it sounded very much like a grammatical soap opera, and besides that, it seemed fraught with ambiguity. After thinking about it some more and checking with some authorities, I settled on the title you see above. A quick review is in order. What is a comparative? A comparative is simply the word or words used to compare two things. In the title of this tip, the comparative is the word that comes between the as…as and replaces the ….

[NOTE: The three dots symbol in the title and the paragraph above is called an ellipsis and represents missing text. The four dots in the paragraph above represent an ellipsis and a period to end the sentence because the period is still required if the ellipsis falls at the end of the sentence.]

Going back to the comparative, the word the ellipsis represents is either an adjective:

That car horn is as loud as the sound of the car wreck itself.

or an adverb:

The brown dog is running as quickly as the spotted dog.

Okay. Now back to the reader’s questions. Our primary goal in writing is to communicate clearly, so the question becomes, do we still understand what the sentence means if we stop it earlier?

Can this sentence reasonably stop after ‘violations?’

“Not surprisingly, larger establishments (over 200 employees) were about half as likely to be cited for serious violations.”

My answer would be yes, you can stop the sentence after ‘violations’ because the notion of ‘larger establishments’ has been defined, and the idea of ‘smaller establishments’ has been implied. I don’t think anyone would wonder what the writer is talking about there.

Can it stop after ‘establishments?’

“Not surprisingly, larger establishments (over 200 employees) were about half as likely to be cited for serious violations as smaller establishments.”

Whether to repeat the verb is a common question. Here, once again, the issue is clarity. Do we understand the sentence without the second verb? I think, in this case, the answer is yes, so we don’t need to repeat the verb.

But in some cases, the omission leads to ambiguity, and then, the verb is needed.

The Chef  is as apt to clean the stove as the waitresses are.

The Chef  is as apt to clean the stove as the waitresses.

Oops. In cases like this, the second verb is needed.

Okay?  And don’t use ‘as’ to mean ‘because’ because the reader may not know if you are referring to a causal or temporal relationship:

As I experimented with the solvent, I found the solution.

This could mean either:

Because I experimented with the solvent, I found the solution.

While I experimented with the solvent, I found the solution.

Just thought I’d mention it.

2 Comments »

  1. Mihai said,

    Really interesting tips. Could you add me on your blog list for weekly tips? Thanks a lot
    mihai.apreutesei@insa-lyon.fr


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