Thursday, March 25, 2010

The vague antecedent (4): “as such”

A frequent error that hampers clear writing is the vague antecedent. An antecedent is a noun (a word, phrase or clause) that a pronoun refers to. Generally, the antecedent should precede the pronoun.* The antecedent should be clear, not vague. In summary: every pronoun should have an easily identifiable noun as its antecedent.

For some reason, we are especially prone to using vague antecedents in connection with the pronoun such, as used in the phrase as such. Here’s an example.

Example of a vague antecedent

Reportedly, The Huffington Post had asked Jesse Ventura, a former professional wrestler and former state governor, to be a contributing editor. But someone at the paper deleted Mr. Ventura’s second contribution (March 9), because the contribution discussed the destruction of the World Trade Center.

In place of Mr. Ventura’s contribution, someone posted this note: “The Huffington Post’s editorial policy, laid out in our blogger guidelines, prohibits the promotion and promulgation of conspiracy theories – including those about 9/11. As such, we have removed this post.”

As used here, the phrase as such is ungrammatical, because the pronoun such does not have a clear antecedent.

When correctly used, as such is equivalent to in that capacity. The capacity should be clearly stated in the previous clause or sentence. For example, this is grammatically correct: “Jane is a professional diction coach. As such, she tends to notice even the slightest accent.”

The Takeaway: Avoid vague antecedents. Every pronoun should have an easily identifiable noun (a word, phrase or clause) as its antecedent. Don’t make your readers guess which noun you mean. It’s bad manners.

*The English word antecedent comes from Latin for going before. If the context makes the antecedent unmistakable, you can safely reverse the sequence: “When he read my term paper, the teacher fell asleep.”

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