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A movie line in the Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Hagrid):

They're goblins. Clever as they come, but not the most friendly of beasts.

Can anyone help me to give a full sentence of the Clever as they come, but not the most friendly of beasts.?

Does it mean They come clever; but they do not come the most friendly of beasts?

Few questions:

  1. The function of as in the sentence.
  2. Is of beasts an adjective to mean They are a kind of beasts?

2 Answers 2

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"Clever as they come" just means that they (the goblins) are as clever as anything or anyone out there. Some words have been dropped from the sentence, which if complete would read:

Goblins are as clever as they come, but not the most friendly of beasts.

Which means:

Goblins are as clever as any creature, but they are not very friendly.

Constructions like "as [adjective] as they come" and others like "as [adjective] as it gets" just express that the noun modified by the adjective has the mentioned quality (cleverness, heat, whatever) to the maximum degree possible.

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Welcome to EL&U.

I can understand why you might find the idiom as they come confusing. It is a fairly common expression in English defined by the Merriam Webster online dictionary as

—used to describe someone or something as having a characteristic to the highest degree.

so the JK Rowling is saying that goblins are intelligent to the highest degree.

In addition to the use of the idiom the second sentence has phrases missed out. I insert them here with the missing phrases in square brackets.

[They're as] clever as they come, but [they're] not the most friendly of beasts.

This means that goblins are as intelligent as any beast you might find but are not very friendly. In fact there is a suggestion that they are downright unfriendly.

The words They're as and they're are omitted partly because their existence can easily be deduced but also because expressing them would mean that the two sentences taken together would read

They're goblins, They're as clever as they come but they're not the most friendly of beasts"

This would mean that the two sentences would have they're included three times in succession which is difficult to read, wastes space, looks very clumsy and is, really, quite unnecessary.

Your problem seems to be that you have been reading a sentence with an unfamiliar idiom (as clever as they come) together with a commonly used skipping of a repeated word or words (they're). I hope this has helped.

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  • as intelligent as anything out there, not just beasts.
    – Jim
    May 3, 2019 at 4:36
  • @Jim In the context of JK's wizarding world I was taking 'beast' to mean any concious entity including Muggles and, possibly, even wizards. The most familiar use of "They are as (whatever) as they come" to me relates to humans of other ethnicities, genders, ages and so on with animals a close second. However, the presence of 'they' in the idiom does, agan to me, exclude the speaker's own group from the comparison.
    – BoldBen
    May 3, 2019 at 9:05
  • I think "as they come" can also be applied to inanimate objects: "The G54 line of steel alloys are as hard as they come." meaning that those alloys are among the hardest of any that exist. "The Sahara is as hot as it comes". "K54 is as tough [a climb] as it comes" etc May 9, 2019 at 23:26
  • thanks, very clear and helpful May 22, 2019 at 0:52

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