Perhaps my favourite thought in the book - certainly the one that resonates with me most - is the passage where Anne talks of longing to have a dress with puffed sleeves, a desire which, of course, Marilla will not even entertain. Anne declares that she will just imagine that her dress has puffed sleeves, which works very well until she arrives at Sunday school. ‘They all had puffed sleeves. I tried to imagine mine were puffed, too, but I couldn’t. Why couldn’t I? It was easy as could be to imagine they were puffed when I was alone in the east gable, but it was awfully hard there among the others who had really truly puffs.’

-- Introduction by Lauren Child, L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

It seems like subject "I" is missed after as, and the as-clause is, so called, the real subject of the sentence. Is this right?

1 Answer 1


It does imply a deleted subject, but that subject is not ‘I’

As can be, as could be was a common colloquial construction down into the early 20th century, but you don't hear it now so much as you used to. It means approximately as it is possible to be and implies a deleted ‘generic’ subject. It is used after an adjective and implies an as before that, which may be deleted.

It was easy as could be to be imagine ... = It was as easy as it could be to imagine ... The deleted subject is quasi-anaphoric here, since it is the same it as begins the sentence.

Your little girl’s just sweet as can be! = She’s just as sweet as [any such child] can be.

You sometimes see this with the adjective duplicated, for emphasis:

He’s mean as mean can be.

A similar construction is used in a non-comparative sense with other modals. See this question on ELU for That’s as may be = ‘That may be true’. You occasionally run across That’s as will be = ‘We will eventually see whether that comes to pass or not’.

In all of these be signifies

  • A more familiar phrase might be, "it was easy as ever". Commented Nov 28, 2013 at 14:22
  • @DamkerngT. But that means something different - not "as easy as possible" but "as easy as it always has/had been in the past". Commented Nov 28, 2013 at 14:26
  • Absolutely true. However, when I see "it was easy as could be ...", I mentally parse it like "it was easy as (could be) ...", and then it's very easy for me to understand the expression. (Because the structure of "as could be" is quite parallel to "as ever".) Commented Nov 28, 2013 at 14:29

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