English English language Usage

Can “such as” be separated?

Q: I was hoping to get your thoughts on something that’s been bugging me for a while.  Almost everyone  breaks up “such as” in statements like “such companies as G.E. and I.B.M.” This sounds terribly awkward and just plain wrong to me.

A: We’ve written before on our blog about the history of “such as” and its use to mean “like” or “for example.”

But we didn’t discuss whether the phrase “such as” can be split when used in this sense. The short answer is yes.

You can write either (1) “authors such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald,” or (2) “such authors as Hemingway and Fitzgerald.”

In other words, the “such” in the phrase can either follow the noun “authors” (as in #1 above) or precede it (as in #2).

As the Oxford English Dictionary explains in more technical language, “syntactically, such may have backward or forward reference.”

The OED notes that the entire phrase “such as” can be “used to introduce examples of a class.”

One of the quotations it cites for this usage is from a 1779 issue of the Mirror (London): “Writers, such as Theophrastus and La Bruyere.”

Elsewhere, in an entry about the use of “as” when the antecedent is “such,” the OED gives this example:

“Without ever having discovered such unwanted distractions as subjugation, exploitation, or war” (from The Last Theorem, 2008, by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl).

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language has a few more illustrations of “such as” constructions, with “such” either preceding or following the noun it refers to:

“such statements as this” … “such factors as costs and projected life expectancy” … “sports such as tennis, cricket, and football.”

That last example could have been written differently: “such sports as tennis, cricket, and football.” A writer might choose to split or not to split—for reasons of style, emphasis, or sentence structure.

In other words, you shouldn’t have separation anxiety when other writers split “such as.” But if separating the phrase sounds awkward to you, don’t do it.

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