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Some strings that have a special meaning, as listed in the following table: (and then here goes that table the presence of which is irrelevant to my question)

I can't understand why we need that as before listed in this sentence. I could rewire the sentence in the following way: "Some strings that have a special meaning listed in the following table" - makes perfect sense to me. Meaning, some strings that have a special meaning are listed or can be found in the following table down below. But that as completely throws me off so I don't know how to understand that sentence properly.

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Broadly speaking, you've understood it correctly and there's little to no difference in the sentence with or without as. In general conversation, the two sentences convey the same information. Either way, there's a table, it appears below the sentence, and it lists some strings and their special meanings.

On a close reading, the inclusion of as implies that the table is comprehensive, and as also makes the language more formal. Without it, it's still possible to read the sentence that way, but the stronger meaning isn't implied; it's potentially possible that there are some strings or meanings not listed in the table. Special meanings are listed in the table means that the table contains a list of special meanings. Special meanings are as listed in the table means that there aren't any valid special meanings not listed in the table.

I don't think that the formal reading should apply in this case; it's not safe to say that the table is intended to be comprehensive. The use of that makes me read the sentence as a dangling modifier (removing that enables it to stand on its own), so I wouldn't attribute a technically nuanced command of English to the text. Additionally, if this is the source (please include quotation sources in your questions!), then the table is not comprehensive, as there's a footnote stating there are other strings with special meanings not listed in the table.

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Preamble

There's a funny backstory to this entire question because Stoyan Stefanov, Facebook Engineer, speaker, and author of Object Oriented Javascript (contains the question's phrase), isn't a native English speaker. But he knows that, and he has developed his own style and philosophy of writing. His latest personal blog entry starts with the following message to us all:

Dear technical copyeditors,

We need to talk.

Background

I'm a technical author. I write books about programming. I don't speak or write proper English. Not my area of expertise. I need your help. But, please, don't overdo it. Here are some Do's and Don'ts that will make our life together easier.
...

He continues to present his philosophy of grammar and style. But I think the real value of Stoyan Stefanov's Poor English Skills(TM) is the following meta-message that is important for language learners everywhere :


You don't have to be perfect in English to be successful among English speakers, perform public talks, and write books in English. You just need to focus on enjoying being good at who you are and what you do.

(CoolHandLouis)


               Object Oriented Javascript


Answer

So with the preamble and The English Learner's "Motivation For The Day" out of the way, let's critique Stefanov's now infamously questionable-yet-ideologically-defendable-by-him phrase:

Some strings that have a special meaning, as listed in the following table:

String              Meaning                          Example
\                   This is the escape character     >>> var s = 'I don't know';
\n                  End of line                      >>> var s = '\n1\n2\n3\n';
etc.                etc.                             etc.

The main problem with Stefanov's phrase is that it's long and it's not a sentence; we expect long phrases to be sentences. We have two primary options: make it shorter or make it a sentence. Let's take a look at various attempts to improve it:

  • "Some strings that have a special meaning, as listed in the following table:" This is the original clunky clause containing a questionable comma. It reads too much like a sentence and you want it to have a full predicate like, "Some strings that have a special meaning are useful due to their magical powers, as listed in the following table:". But it's not there and you just read to the colon and feel like you must have missed something.

  • "Some strings that have a special meaning listed in the following table:" This is OP's suggestion which creates a slightly-shorter noun-phrase. But it eliminates the comma + as which helps to break the sentence into two parts Each part has a separate function; the part after comma + as alerts the reader about the relationship of the first part to the stuff that follows the colon. Also, the word 'listed' initially sounds like the verb that all readers are desperately expecting; it doesn't serve that role and thus creates confusion.

    Long, continuous noun-phrases can be hard to follow! Try the next noun-phrase just for fun. "My aunt's friends that had been at the party the night after she kissed the guy she met on a date with her girlfriend's best friend listed in the following table:"

  • "Strings that have a special meaning:" This edit stays true to Stefanov's reductionist style which allows the reader to grok it for what it is: a describing noun-phrase, not a sentence. This has the implied subject-predicate, "The following are...". This option would be ok.

  • "Some strings that have a special meaning are listed in the following table:" Adding a simple verb makes this an easy-to-read sentence! The phrase 'are listed' is now a true verb. It's an easier-to-read sentence because the expected elements are there.

  • "Some strings have a special meaning, as listed in the following table:" Again, this is a full sentence. The comma + as listed is an idiomatic indicator of a transition in the sentence. When we see this form, we then know that this type of transition is taking place, relating the prior sentence (independent clause) in some way to the following material. It can be interpreted as "Some strings have a special meaning. And those special meanings are listed in the following table:"

The key to readability is providing the reader with expected elements in the right place. It can be OK to drop some elements when a sentence is short. But as phrases and clauses get longer, the need becomes greater for commas and that's and as's (and other such words, phrases, and punctuation) that break up sentence structures and mark sentence transitions -- all of which help the reader to read what they're reading.

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  • Thus, you suggest that " comma+as PP " is informal or idiomatic ? I have question about this pattern. does it formal or applicable for academic texts? – Cardinal Aug 17 '15 at 23:21
  • @Cardinal - I don't think this answer is the best place to give you a good reply because you're asking a slightly different question. I suggest you pose this as a question all on it's own so you get some high quality feedback. Make up a couple example sentences and ask your question... I really think referring back to this question/answer would even confuse matters so I would suggest avoiding that. – CoolHandLouis Aug 18 '15 at 22:57
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I appreciate Esoteric's in-depth answer! But then, I think, something as listed... is plain English. In OP's question too, removing as does not make a drastic difference to me.

...as listed below... or ...as mentioned below... are quite similar expressions we use when we list/describe something below the sentence. While writing medical articles, I often use such expression. Say... In addition to the 'M' pattern fever, the patient does have several other symptoms mentioned as below. Remove as and it'll go fine though those symptoms are specific to typhoid and nothing else (contradictory to what Esoteric says in the second paragraph). So, IMHO, that's okay!

In most of the cases, removing as will work. For instance, the benefits as listed below... is equal to the benefits listed below

as denotes the things as they are, something in situ.

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