In a letter from Lewis and Clark to the Oto Indians, I read:

Know that this great chief, as powerful as he is just, and as beneficent as he is wise, always entertaining a Sincere and friendly disposition towards the red people of America, has commanded us his war cheifs to undertake this long journey...

From Letters to a Nation: A Collection of Extraordinary American Letters by Andrew Carroll

Is there a name for the structure "as x as he is y" that is used in consecutive sentences and describes a common person or thing?

  • "Site" ("place") not "sight" ("vision"). Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 0:07
  • Would this "device" include usages such as It's as broad as it is long? Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 1:21
  • @medica Thanks for your help, the post looks much better now compared to the mess I did. Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 1:45
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    @Erik: I'd hardly say "It's as broad as it is long" is "purely descriptive". It's effectively an idiomatic usage, similar to "It's six of one and half-a-dozen of the other", both of which would probably be quite perplexing to a non-native speaker on first encounter. Whereas saying a king is as wise as he is powerful is a simple statement of fact that should be easily understood by anyone with even a minimal grasp of English. Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 12:39
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    @Erik: Looking through the first few pages of results for "it's as broad as it is long" in Google Books, I don't see a single one for the "literal" sense. Among others, usingenglish specifically calls it an idiom. But I notice they (and some others) say it's a British usage, which may be why we have different perspectives here. Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 14:53

3 Answers 3


"As" establishes simile, the repetition parallelism.

Parallelism: From the Greek for "beside one another," the grammatical or rhetorical framing of words, phrases, sentences, or paragraphs to give structural similarity (Source: Stanford)

Simile: An explicit comparison (using like or as): "Her lips are like roses." (Source: Cal Poly)


Two rhetorical terms seem relevant to this phrasing. One is epanaphora, which Wikipedia's Glossary of Rhetorical Terms defines as follows:

Epanaphora. In rhetoric, repeating the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive phrases for emphasis. For example (from Rhetorica ad Herennium), "'To you must go the credit for this, to you are thanks due, to you will this act of yours bring glory.'"

The other is enumeratio, which the same source defines as follows:

Enumeratio. Making a point more forcibly by listing detailed causes or effects; to enumerate: count off or list one by one.

A linked series of comparisons along the lines of "as powerful as he is just, as beneficent as he is wise" emphasizes the equivalent dignity or merit of the various items linked by as (epanaphora), and it enlarges the cited the array of virtues and powers that the thing or person so described possesses (enumeratio).


It seems that the known literary device is precisely as used here with the conjunction "as": "as x, as he is y…" The phrasing can be also used in a negative way: "as greedy as he is deceitful," or "as vindictive as he is cowardly…"

You might find it helpful to read about correlative conjunctions here: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/conjunctions.htm

"neither… nor…" and "both… and…" can be used to similar effect: "he is neither brave nor honest" or "he is both vigilant and aggressive" are examples I just made up. There are endless possibilities for enhancing both compliments and insults using successive clauses.

I'm not quite sure I understand the rest of the question. If you mean duplicating the effect of this contrast on a larger scale, that is over paragraphs, rather than in a single sentence, that is certainly done often. In fact, many short stories and novels accumulate through a succession of descriptive sketches that either reinforce one another or create unexpected surprises of contrast. I can't think of a word for this particular style of writing. I'm sure one can be found!

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