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From my understanding, the main formula for an "as~as" comparison is: (subject + verb)(object) [as {adjective/adverb/noun} as] (complements: clause/noun phrase/adjective/adverb)

For example: He is as nice as his father. I read a book as long as the Bible.

However, I'm curious as to why: He is as nice a person as his father. is acceptable while: I read as long a book as the Bible. is unacceptable.

Are comparisons using the "be" verb acceptable while other comparisons using regular verbs (read) are not?

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  • He is as nice a person as his father (is). Fine. I read as long a book as the Bible (read). The Bible does not read books. – Peter Shor Nov 15 '18 at 1:35
  • @PeterShor I disagree -- somewhat. “Most people rarely read a book as long as ‘Moby Dick’” seems perfectly cromulent. The implied word at the end is (is), not (reads) in this instance. Am I wrong? – whiskeychief Nov 17 '18 at 14:19
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    @whiskeychief: Your comment says a book as long as rather than as long a book as, which is the difference the OP is asking about. – Peter Shor Nov 17 '18 at 15:54
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Consider the two sentences:

I built a house as tall as the giant,

I built as tall a house as the giant.

The first one would most naturally be read as

I built a house as tall as the giant (is tall),

while the second one would most naturally be read as

I built as tall a house as the giant (built).

I think that what is going on with your example is that from the grammar alone, the most natural meaning of your second sentence is:

I read a book as long as the Bible (read).

However, this doesn't make any sense, as the Bible doesn't read books. The meaning with (is) does make sense, so we interpret it as having that meaning, but the sentence ends up sounding vaguely wrong.

If the verb in the sentence is "is", then the two meanings are the same, and the word order doesn't matter.

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The difference is this: in "He is as nice a person as his father (is)" He is the subject of the verb is which is stated in the first part of the sentence then implied at the end. However in "I read a book as long as the Bible (is)" I is the subject of the stated verb read, the implied verb is is never actually stated and read is not implied so the sentence structures are not the same.

Because of this the first sentence sounds right but the second does not.

If you said "I read a book which is as long as the Bible (is)" the sentence would sound right. This is because the word which stands for a book and is the subject of the verb is in the second part of the sentence. This second part is an adjectival clause describing the book you read and the implied is at the end of the clause repeats the stated verb in the clause.

Because of this the clause has the same structure as the first sentence and the whole sentence sounds right.

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