The Sentence in Question

The legal “theories” of democracy that evolved in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were precisely intended to provide such definitions as would link certain actual or ideal forms of government to the ideology of the Rule by the People --(Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, Schumpeter).

My question

I understand the overall gist of the sentence, but I can't for the life of me figure out its grammatical structure. Sure, it’s a complex sentence: main clause up until “definitions,” subordinate from “as.” What confuses me is (what I can’t help but assume to be) the subordinating conjunction, because I’ve never seen “as would” used that way. I’d greatly appreciate if someone could break the sentence down word by word, even if only the subordinate clause, especially if there are words which were implied to avoid verbosity.

Thank you in advance!

  • 1
    It's an odd use of the such/so ... that idiom. The phrase is provide such definitions as would link certain... The use of as is in place of that as a consequence of the phrase such as. The whole thing means "such definitions that would link certain..." Oct 29, 2022 at 18:35
  • 1
    @JohnLawler: It seems to me the whole thing just means "[provide] definitions that would link certain...". In which context such is completely optional - and whether it's present or not, it doesn't seem to convey anything meaningfully different to the, those, any, some (or even a selection of ). Oct 29, 2022 at 19:13
  • Replace "definitions as would" with "definitions of the kind that would." Oct 29, 2022 at 23:06
  • such...as means those...that: The theories were intended to provide those definitions that would link certain forms of government... Oct 29, 2022 at 23:20

2 Answers 2


Such ... as means those ... that:

The theories were intended to provide such definitions as would link certain forms of government...

The theories were intended to provide those definitions that would link certain forms of government...

So such functions as a determiner like those, and as functions as a relative pronoun like that.

such, adj. and pron.


Such is a demonstrative word used to indicate the quality or quantity of a thing by reference to that of another or with respect to the effect that it produces or is capable of producing. Thus, syntactically, such may have backward or forward reference; in the uses of branch I it has the former, in those of branch II mainly the latter.

II. Where the meaning is determined by reference to a correlative or subordinate clause
11. such..as (Old English swá): the..that, plural those..that; any or all..that; as many (or as much)..as.

Source: Oxford English Dictionary (login required)

Below are selected samples from the OED entry; swap in the, those, any, all, or most — as applicable — for such, and swap in that for as:

1545   R. TAVERNER tr. Erasmus Prouerbes (new ed.) sig. Gv   Such ale as he hath brewed, let hi drinke him self.

1835   J. DUNCAN Nat. Hist. Beetles (Naturalist’s Libr.: Entomol. II) 182   This genus..comprehends such insects as have the antennæ slightly compressed.

1737   Gentleman’s Mag. May 261/2   These, being such as occur to my Memory at present.


I've seen this use of "as" treated variously, but I like Merriam-Webster's interpretation of it as a (relative) pronoun:

: THAT, WHO, WHICH —used after same or such
// in the same building as my brother
// … tears such as angels weep …
— John Milton
and chiefly dialect after a substantive not modified by same or such
// … that kind of fruit as maids call medlars …
— William Shakespeare

(I don't understand how the first example is relevant, but the quotations from Milton and Shakespeare nicely illustrate this use of "as".)

In this case, "as" functions as the subject of the relative clause.

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