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Here is a sentence from Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (the beginning of Letter 2):

How slowly the time passes here, encompassed as I am by frost and snow!

Here is the full text: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/84/84-h/84-h.htm

At the time the character writes the sentence, he is in the northern part of Russia, in the city of Archangel (Arkhangelsk), from which he plans to go on an expedition to the North Pole.

OALD says that as used in such a way (with an adjective in front of it) is synonymous with though. But looking at the context, I don't think though is really what the author meant.

In a Russian translation of the book, this sentence sounds like:

How slowly the time passes for those who are encompassed by frost and snow!

What does encompassed as I am actually mean? Is it equal to though I am encompassed, or is it just a kind of inversion, with the "direct" version being as I am encompassed and the as meaning while (i.e. during the time) or something like that?

  1. How slowly the time passes here, though I am encompassed by frost and snow!
  2. How slowly the time passes here, while I am encompassed by frost and snow!
  • I would agree with second version, "while." – Teacher KSHuang Mar 28 '17 at 10:13
  • In Russian that should be something like: "Как не скоротечно бежит здесь время вокруг охваченными снегом и стужей людьми вроде меня." – SovereignSun Mar 28 '17 at 12:30
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    It's worth noting that this is a rather old-fashioned and perhaps formal expression likely to be seen much more in writing than in speaking. – Muzer Mar 28 '17 at 15:01
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    Agree with the second version using while. It could also be rephrased as "encompassed in the way that I am, by frost and snow", but it doesn't sound as poetic. – Hugh Nolan Mar 28 '17 at 16:37

11 Answers 11

2

"As" could have a number of meanings that are applicable here. (refer to definition)

  1. "Used to refer to the function or character that someone or something has." or "Used to add or interject a comment relating to the statement of a fact." "As I am" is similar to the expression "as (it) is", meaning "In the existing circumstances".

    In this meaning, "as" would refer to the current condition, just a description of the setting, similar to:

    I am encompassed by frost and snow, and time passes very slowly here.

    or

    How slowly the time passes here, I am currently encompassed by frost and snow!

    Choirbean's answer goes to this meaning.

  2. "Used to indicate that something happens during the time when something else is taking place." That's the "while" meaning addressed by Guest_Poster_123's answer, so I won't repeat that here.

  3. It could mean "because":

    How slowly the time passes here because I am encompassed by frost and snow!

    The implication being that the frost and snow prevents doing activities that would make time seem to pass more quickly.

    Edit: It looks like PaulF posted an answer addressing this meaning while I was drafting mine. Actually, TRomano's and SteveES's answers do, too.

  4. "Used in comparisons to refer to the extent or degree of something."

    There isn't an explicit comparison here, but extent or degree could be an implication. Robert Lee's answer addresses this.

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3

The phrase as I am here would be better understood with the two optional commas:

How slowly the time passes here, encompassed, as I am, by frost and snow!

You could also use parenthesis without changing the meaning:

How slowly the time passes here, encompassed (as I am) by frost and snow!

The usage here is older English, which is why it is giving you trouble. "As I am" here is a way of explaining that this is actually the situation he finds himself in right now.

I'm not familiar with the broader work, but the author could be using it for emphasis of the speaker's situation, or to use the appropriate number of syllables.

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3

It definitely isn't option 1. It's kind of option 2, but that gives a temporal implication that is stronger than the original sentence (i.e. that the frost and snow may go away at some point).

The sentence implies a causal link between "time passing slowly here" and "being encompassed by frost and snow", in "my" experience. It could therefore be rephrased as:

Being encompassed by frost and snow makes time pass slowly here, for me.

The sentence would mean the same thing if as I am was removed. Including as I am emphasises that the situation is happening to "me", "now".

The Russian translation has pretty much the same meaning, but only if context causes "those" to consist of "me" (and it should also apply specifically to "here", not generally everywhere).

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3

The phrase encompassed as I am by frost and snow is an absolute clause tacked onto the end of the main clause as explanation for the main clause. The fact expressed in the absolute clause is the cause of the fact expressed in the main clause.

I feared for my life, surrounded as I was by drunken hooligans.

They started passing notes to each other in class, bored as they were by the teacher's diatribes on the administration's stupidity.

They turned to anthropophagy, starved as they were after weeks of no food high in the Andes Mountains.

She opened the package before her birthday, impatient as she was to know what he had given her.

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2

"As I am" simply identifies "I" being in the situation, process, mood, state, action or whatever "I" am in, doing something the way "I" do.

Examples:

  1. If you are ever loved as I am you will understand. (In a way I am loved)
  2. Doing tricks as I am is a very dangerous thing to do. (Doing tricks the way I do them)

You can place that in the past as well.

  • Such a naughty kid as I was would always get into trouble. (He was a naughty kid)

You can also replace I with he/she/it, you, we, they. There's a lot more you can do to change this construction. You can add "would like to be", you can add "not" - as I am not.

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2

"xxxxx as I am" can be viewed as an archaic way of saying "because I am xxxxx" - so the original sentence can be rephrased as :

How slowly the time passes here, because I am encompassed by frost and snow!

(See http://www.dictionary.com/browse/as definition 8)

Note how this works for all of TRomano's examples.

Similar to the use of "as" in a sentence like "As it is Friday, I am leaving early" being rephrased as "Because it is Friday, I am leaving early"

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1

How slowly the time passes here, encompassed as I am by frost and snow!

I interpreted this as:

How slowly time passes here for me while I am encompassed by frost and snow.

as = for me while

I am trapped by frost and snow and it is very boring.

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1

The word as is best understood as a preposition in modern English (some grammars would call it a subordination conjunction when it is followed by a clause).

However, the word as used to be used in relative clauses. We still use it in similar ways in modern English. We can understand the OP's example if we replace the as phrase with a relative clause using which:

How slowly the time passes here, encompassed, which I am, by frost and snow!

This clause (and the OP's example) have a gap after the word am. We can model the sentence like this:

  • How slowly the time passes here, encompassed which I am encompassed by frost and snow.

Or with as:

  • How slowly the time passes here, encompassed as I am encompassed by frost and snow.
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0

I would say that "as" represents a degree of encompassment. Therefore, the passage could be stated. "How slowly time passes here for me, encompassed, to the degree that I am, by frost and snow".

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0

Think of it as the same as: How slowly the time passes here, as I am encompassed by frost and snow!

Sometimes English takes liberties with word order for dramatic effect. In the above statement we are emphasizing "as i am", whereas in the original, we were putting the weight on "encompass"

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0

"participle as I am by nouns" could be rephrased as "when you are participle by nouns like I am!"

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