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Author Topic: Doing battle with the recurrent misuse of the conjunction “as”  (Read 96 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: October 23, 2017, 12:51:47 AM »

When I used to do my regular media English watch for the Forum, one of the strangely recurrent grammar errors I’d find in news reporting is the misuse of the subordinating conjunction “as.” I say strangely because “as” is actually a basic conjunction, one whose usage should have already been mastered by Filipino learners of English by the time they enter college. So, every time I stumble on another misuse of “as” in print or online news stories, I get the feeling that both reporter and desk editor as well as their respective English teachers never really understood the grammar and semantics of “as” in the first place.



Consider this glaring misuse of “as” in this lead sentence of a story from the news website of a major TV network: “Taal Volcano showed signs of activity as state volcanologists recorded seven quakes there in the last 24 hours.” The use of “as” here is grammatically and semantically flawed because it gives the absurd sense that the volcano, as if resenting human intrusion, showed signs of activity when—or even because—the state volcanologists took the trouble of recording the earthquakes in its vicinity.

When we closely examine that problematic sentence, we’ll find that the conjunction “as” links two independent clauses, “Taal Volcano showed signs of activity” and “state volcanologists recorded seven quakes there in the last 24 hours.” But this linkage is logically faulty because in the context of that sentence, “as” could only mean either “while” or “when,” in one sense, or “because” or “since,” in another sense.

This illogic becomes clear when we make those equivalent connectives stand for “as”: (1) “Taal Volcano showed signs of activity while state volcanologists recorded seven quakes there in the last 24 hours”; (2) “Taal Volcano showed signs of activity when state volcanologists recorded seven quakes there in the last 24 hours”; (3) “Taal Volcano showed signs of activity because state volcanologists recorded seven quakes there in the last 24 hours”; (4) “Taal Volcano showed signs of activity since state volcanologists recorded seven quakes there in the last 24 hours.”

All four reconstructions above are false or absurd. This is because in the natural scheme of things, as I already pointed out, volcanoes are inanimate entities incapable of reacting to human presence. And in the context of that lead sentence, the signs of Taal Volcano’s volcanic activity were actually one and the same as the “recorded seven quakes there in the last 24 hours.”

By now it should be obvious that it is illogical to use “as” in that sentence. How then should that sentence be constructed? From a journalistic standpoint, two logical constructions come to mind: (1) “State volcanologists recorded seven quakes at Taal Volcano in the last 24 hours”; and (2) “Seven quakes were recorded at Taal Volcano in the last 24 hours, state volcanologists reported.” Both are simple sentences that don’t require a conjunction at all.

I trust that I have made my point clearly enough for every reader, whether journalist or not.

Now, for grammar practice, I’d like readers and serious English learners to analyze and correct the other serious misuses of “as” in the following actual lead sentences that I’ve gathered from various media outlets during the past 12 months:

Major Metro Manila daily: “The rainy season began this week as the country went through the shortest dry season this year because of the La Niña phenomenon.”

News website of another major TV network: “Tragedy struck on Holy Thursday as two people drowned and another one went missing in a river in Oriental Mindoro.”

Another Metro Manila daily: “Camiguin province continues to experience an economic boom as the provincial government is eyeing close to P300 million in investments next year, officials said Thursday.”

Doing these exercises should help eliminate the misuse of “as” not only in news reportage but also in everybody’s written and spoken English. (2011)

This essay first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the October 1, 2011 issue of The Manila Times, 2011 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

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POSTSCRIPT:
The function word “as” works in any of four ways, of course: as conjunction (its usage as discussed in the essay above) as preposition (“His face was as a mask.”), as adverb (“The fiber was as soft as silk.”), and as pronoun (“He is a foreigner, as is evident from his accent.”). I suggest you look into and practice its various uses more intensively to avoid grammatical mishaps like the ones critiqued above.


« Last Edit: October 23, 2017, 02:23:11 PM by Joe Carillo » Logged

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