Language Corner

Test your mastery of ‘therefore’ and ‘as such’

May 30, 2017
Image via Pexels.

A quiz:

Which sentence pair is correct?
a) Every week, we must write a column. Therefore, we sometimes struggle to find ideas.
b) Every week, we must write a column. As such, we sometimes struggle to find ideas.
c) Both are correct.
d) Neither is correct.

For the answer, you have to read this column.

The lesson revolves around “Therefore” and “As such.” Let’s start with the grammar.

“Therefore” is an adverb meaning “for that reason.” Easy.

“Such” plays many roles:

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It’s an adverb meaning “to so great a degree.” (“Such tall buildings” is the example in Merriam-Webster.)

It’s an adjective meaning “of the kind just mentioned or implied.” (“A bag such as a doctor carries” as M-W says.)

“Such” is also a pronoun, replacing something that was referred to before. (“Such was the result.”)

Some of you may have been taught that “such” is not a pronoun. Tsk. As an M-W usage note says, “For reasons that are hard to understand, commentators on usage disapprove of such used as a pronoun. Dictionaries, however, recognize it as standard.”

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One problem with “such” as a pronoun occurs when “as” comes before it. As Bryan A. Garner says in Modern English Usage: “With as such, for example, its rightness depends entirely on what has been said in the preceding sentence: what is the antecedent of such?”

An antecedent, of course, is the noun the pronoun is replacing. That can be the “test” to help you decide whether your “as such” passes the smell test. If you can repeat the noun or noun phrase in place of “such” and it still means what you want it to mean, it can live.

This is sometimes easy to see. “Donald Trump is president, and he wields a lot of power as such.” You could say “Donald Trump is president, and he wields a lot of power as president.” The antecedent of the pronoun “such” is clearly “president.”

Putting “as such” at the beginning of the sentence doesn’t change that: “Donald Trump is president. As such, he wields a lot of power” is just as accurate as “Donald Trump is president. As president, he wields a lot of power.”

Here’s where the confusion comes in. You could also write “Donald Trump is president. Therefore, he wields a lot of power.” So that means “as such” and “therefore” are interchangeable, right?

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Sometimes. “Therefore” is an adverb, illustrating a leap of logic: “Because he is president, Trump wields a lot of power.” That is a different sentence grammatically from having “such” simply replace another noun.

Garner says “some writers faddishly use as such as if it meant ‘thus’ or ‘therefore.’” That usage, he says, is a mistaken extrapolation from the occasions when “as such” can be used in place of “thus” or “therefore.” Incorrectly using “as such” for “therefore” is at Stage 2 of the five-stage Language-Change Index, meaning you’ll get such a scolding from your English teacher if you use it.

One definition of “as such” in The Oxford English Dictionary equates the phrase to “Accordingly, consequently, thereupon.” But it calls that usage “colloq. or vulgar.” Even so, people have been (mis)using “as such” in place of “therefore” for a long time. As the Grammarphobia blog notes, “This usage was first recorded in the 18th century but has never gained acceptance, probably because it’s ambiguous.” The proper usage, the blog notes, answers the question “as what?”

As Garner says, with some understatement, “Obviously, this phrase requires much care.”

Now, go back to our quiz.

The correct answer—grammatically—is “a.” If “b” doesn’t bother you, it might be because, though it is ungrammatical, it does not appear to you as such. As such, you should read the column again.

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Merrill Perlman managed copy desks across the newsroom at the New York Times, where she worked for twenty-five years. Follow her on Twitter at @meperl.