For idiosyncratic reasons of euphony and metre, I want to write (something like) "She wore round her neck many gems, as beautiful as rare."

I feel in my bones that this formulation, "... as (adjective) as (adjective)," is acceptable (if decidedly dated, poetic, or literary), but cannot find any corroboration in, for example, the OED. (I gazed glassily at the large entry for "as, adv. and conj.", for a while yesterday.) I did find some support by googling a few sample phrases, which garnered a very few hits, such as:

"Yes, but where / True nature links a friendly pair, / The blessing is as rich as rare."

"It is an extremely beautiful plant, and as rare as beautiful, being only found in the best collections."

"Animals are given voices, inanimate objects legs, and the world is peopled with beings as strange as rare."

I know that the more idiomatic forms of these would be "as rich as it is rare," "as rare as it is beautiful," "as strange as they are rare." So a corollary to my question is: Is the form "as (adjective) as (adjective)" implying or eliding the fuller "as (adjective) as [it is/they are/etc.] (adjective)"?

My main concern, always, is not to give the reader miscues. When one reads "as beautiful as," one probably expects a noun or noun phrase to follow: "as beautiful as a sunset," e.g. This is so common, that I worry that a reader might even assume that "rare," in my sentence, is the first part of such a noun phrase, e.g., "[gems] as beautiful as rare flowers." But, because the period immediately follows "rare," indeed is probably grouped by the eye with it, any stumbling or cognitive dissonance should probably be minimal.

p.s. If you know any examples of "as (adjective) as (adjective)" in canonical literature, I'd sure like to hear them.

  • A Google search for "as beautiful as rare" seems to lead to quite a few examples containing otherwise suspect grammar, and not many others. And I think you've selected one of the least unpromising examples. I'd say that deleting 'it is' from '... as beautiful as it is rare' etc is not usual. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 16 '17 at 21:11
  • I'm inclined to say the example you use is ellipsis: as beautiful as they were rare. – Dog Lover Oct 16 '17 at 21:17
  • Darth Vader says of his short-lived space admiral that he is "as clumsy as he is stupid" (look it up). I'd say that the *as...as..." form is pretty well established. – Global Charm Oct 16 '17 at 21:48
  • @Global Charm: But could Vader have said, in a purple moment, that the admiral is "as clumsy as stupid"? – William Bryce George Oct 16 '17 at 21:58
  • @WilliamBryceGeorge Vader, no. Part of his menace lies in the extreme precision of his language and the mechanical nature of his voice. He'd be good in the grammar police, though. – Global Charm Oct 16 '17 at 22:04

"as beautiful as a rose" / "it is as beautiful as a rose". Using a noun shows that we are using a simile. We are likening the intensity of something's beauty to the supreme beauty of a rose. (Let's assume we think that roses are gorgeous.)

"as beautiful as rare" / "it is as beautiful as rare" / "it is as beautiful as it is rare". Using an adjective emphasizes that both adjectives are true to identical degrees, emphasizing that adjective 1 is true and not to an inferior when compared to adjective 2. Adjective 2 is a given -- we can take it for granted. The object's rarity is not in question. The speaker and the listener both know that object is rare and agree on this fact. The speaker is saying "Don't forget that it is also beautiful. And this beauty is as significant as its rarity."

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