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For these two sentences, why do we need to use "he was" and "it is"? What two things are being compared in these sentences?

Henry was almost as famous a philosopher as he was a poet.

It is as important to purchase fresh herbs as it is to use techniques recommended in the cookbook.

Also, I wonder if we can delete "he was" and "it is" and the grammar is still correct?

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Your two examples are simply comparing two adjectives of the same subject. A general structure of sentences like these would look something like this:

Subject + adjective

as

subject + another adjective.

The 'he was' phrase is simply denoting which subject the second adjective is referring to. If the subjects were different then the sentence could look like, 'Henry was almost as famous a philosopher as Richard was a poet'.

Therefore, to answer your question, the grammar of the sentences wouldn't be correct if you remove the bolded words.

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