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I read this sentence in an article in the NY Times:

It is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots.

I understand that this is about 'as... as...' comparisons. But I really cannot figure out why there are three 'as's? Can you please explain it?

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    to be fair that sentence is hard to read for a native speaker too – jcollum Jun 4 at 17:28
  • Allowing for a split infinitive, more readable would be "It is as necessary for me to vigorously condemn the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots." – Strawberry Jun 5 at 12:04
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The sentence is actually not entirely syntactically sound, and it's also stylistically poor, because its length makes it difficult to parse.


Consider a far more simple sentence:

✔ It is as necessary for me to sleep as it is for me to eat.

In short, for me, sleeping is just as necessary as eating.


Now add two more instances of as:

✔ It is as necessary for me to sleep as much as possible as it is for me to eat as much as possible..

In short, for me, sleeping as much as possible is just as necessary as eating as much as possible.


But it's really only the as at the start of the sentence and the as at the end of the sentence that are required for this type of construction.

We can easily remove the second or fourth. (Or both, which would result in the original example sentence):

✔ It is as necessary for me to sleep as it is for me to eat as much as possible..


The sentence in the question can be analyzed in the same way.

First simplify it:

✔ It is as necessary for me to be vigorous in condemning [some] conditions as it is for me to condemn riots.

Hopefully that makes sense.


Now add in the rest:

? It is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots.

The construction is essentially valid, except that the second as doesn't work. It seems to be an addition that's unnecessarily attempting to serve the same function.

Look at the phrase on its own, with the as removed:

✔ [It is necessary] for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities

The phrase only makes sense without that as. It doesn't make any sense when it's there.

As such, it's a mistake.

The sentence should really be this:

✔ It is as necessary for me to be [] vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots.

That's only two instances of as.

The sentence is still unnecessarily long-winded and difficult to parse (it should be rephrased), but it's now syntactically valid.


Note that the second as, which I analyze as a mistake, might make sense if it follows from a previous sentence. But without that context, there's no way of knowing.

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  • I agree, the second "as" is an error. I wouldn't call it bad writing, because it's a transcription of a speech by MLK, which can be heard here. psychologytoday.com/us/blog/psych-unseen/202005/… It's not bad for speaking off the cuff. – Jack O'Flaherty Jun 4 at 2:46
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    @JackO'Flaherty Ah! That's totally different. What's spoken is often quite different than what's written. In speech, what is difficult to parse when read often makes a lot more sense because of tone of voice and rhythm. The context wasn't given, so all I could go on was the single sentence. – Jason Bassford Jun 4 at 3:18
  • Actually, it didn't hang together as a spoken sentence either (the video showed the transcription was accurate). But it's easy to garden-path yourself when speaking. – Jack O'Flaherty Jun 4 at 3:54
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    The second as makes sense in context, which the NYT article had excluded. It follows a passage of Dr. King speaking about vigorously condemning riots; here, Dr. King is saying it is just as necessary for him to be just as vigorous. mentalfloss.com/article/625058/… – A N Jun 4 at 15:25
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    @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. Yes, I already addressed (most of) that in the final sentence of my answer. But I thought you weren't here any more. ;) – Jason Bassford Jun 4 at 18:09
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This is a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King's speech at Stanford University in 1967. Here's a slightly more complete version:

But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots.

Dr. King was an exceptional leader, thinker, orator, and writer, but I have the temerity to think that the first "as" in that sentence was a slip of the tongue. I suspect he meant:

But at the same time, it is necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots.

"It is necessary for me to be" is an orator's way of saying "I must be."

Moving on to the rest of the sentence, when you say "as [X] ... as [Y]" you're saying X must at least equal Y. X is his vigor (force, effort) condemning the conditions that make people feel they must riot. Y is his vigor condemning the rioting itself.

So he's condemning the conditions that make people feel they must riot to the same degree as he's condemning rioting.

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    Yes, the sentence would also work if the first as were removed, not necessarily the second. Either one can stay, but the other has to go. In my answer, it was simpler in terms of my analysis to say it should be the second one. – Jason Bassford Jun 4 at 11:39
  • @JasonBassford - Yeah, I see your point. It really works either way. – T.J. Crowder Jun 4 at 11:41
  • @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. - Yeah, I can see that reading, too. I can't watch it right now, which will probably be illuminating. Thanks for that link! – T.J. Crowder Jun 4 at 18:28
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Let's simplify your sentence:

It is as necessary [to do this] as it is for me [to do that].

All this means is that both actions are equally necessary.

Now substitute:

to do this = to be as vigorous in condemning [these conditions]

to do that = to condemn riots

It is as necessary to be as vigorous in condemning [these conditions] as it is for me to condemn riots.

Presumably, "as vigorous" means "as vigorous as I am being at the moment". The speaker is justifying what may seem to some as an overreaction toward the issue of riots.

Finally, substitute:

these conditions = the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities

Now you have the original sentence:

It is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots.


TL;DR: I think the confusion was due to "as vigorous", which is not an explicit comparison. Presumably, we are meant to interpret it as "as vigorous as I am currently being, whether or not it may seem overkill".

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    Based on your interpretation, "as vigorous" could be replaced by "this vigorous" (or potentially "that vigorous", depending on the context). That would make the sentence significantly less confusing. – NotThatGuy Jun 4 at 8:32
  • Or 'so vigorous'. – dbmag9 Jun 4 at 10:50
  • @NotThatGuy I agree. – Micah Windsor Jun 4 at 12:12
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    "The speaker is justifying what may seem to some as an overreaction toward the issue of riots." - In context, I don't think this quite matches the speaker's intent. That portion of the speech is primarily directed at those who are condemning the riots (which is nearly everyone). The speaker is agreeing that rioting is unacceptable, but is telling everyone focused on the riots that they should focus just as much energy on the cause of the riots. – Brian Jun 4 at 13:45

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