When I want to write that some something has been "taken to mean" or "understood" or "interpreted as" XYZ, I sometimes use the phrase "to conceive of something as XYZ, where XYZ usually is a longer and detailed explanation.

So, I often end up having a sentence like this:

Something has been conceived of as XYZ.

My supervisor, when reading my drafts, always marks this as wrong and wants me to get rid of "of", so that the sentence would read:

Something has been conceived as XYZ.

While trusting my supervisor with his native speaker intuition and his really good knowledge of grammar et al., I still feel that the sentence requires the "of". It sounds terrible to me.

Anybody in for a verdict on this?

  • 1
    If I felt compelled to use passive voice at all in instances like this one, I would probably use "understood" or "interpreted" and avoid "conceived/conceived of" altogether. But I recommend that you specify who is doing the conceiving. "Most practitioners understand something to mean XYZ." "Some experts have interpreted something to mean XYZ." When authors explicitly identify the actors responsible for the actions they're discussing, readers benefit. – Sven Yargs May 30 '14 at 1:50

I disagree with JLG's explanation. Your supervisor is conflating two similar-looking but non-identical constructions having two different meanings:

1) To conceive of X as Y, where conceive means to interpret / comprehend:

Copernicus conceived of the Earth as a sphere rather than as a plane

2) To conceive X as Y, where conceive means to invent, especially when the invention is in pursuit of a particular objective:

Julius Edgar Lilienfeld conceived the field-effect transistor as a solid-state replacement for the triode.

  • I'm not sure that you're answering the question asked. Do you agree with the supervisor or not? Links to your definitions would improve your answer. Also, your two parts just illustrate the point that conceive can be a transitive verb (taking an object) and an intransitive. I don't think your second example sentence is equivalent to the OP's example. Conceive has a lot of definitions. – JLG May 31 '14 at 14:37

protected by Mitch Aug 17 '14 at 21:04

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