Could you please help me with the grammar in this sentence?

More economic variation took shape in rural villages, as some grew prosperous from farming while others did not. As well as can be measured, rural standards of living improved in the Fifth Reign. But the statistical averages mean little when measured against the harsh realities of peasant life.

How can the clause "As well as can be measured" lack the subject?

Reference: TOEFL Practice Online32 Reading Passage2

  • 2
    Because it's not a clause. "Well" is an adverb, with the first "as" being an adverb, the second a preposition with "can be measured" as its complement. "As well as can be measured" then functions as a degree adjunct. The understood subject of "can be measured" is "rural standards of living".
    – BillJ
    Apr 20, 2023 at 8:06
  • That is an example of an introductory phrase. see this article here for more information
    – Billy Kerr
    Apr 20, 2023 at 9:55
  • I wrote an answer, but when I searched for the quotation's source (TOEFL Practice Online32 Reading Passage2) I couldn't find anything online. Please cite your source in a way so that people can find it. (Is there a URL?) May 22, 2023 at 19:43

2 Answers 2


As Bill notes, This is not a clause, it is an introductory phrase, and adjunct or adverbial expression. It does contain a clause. The object of the prepostion "as" is the clause "can be measured"

The head word in that clause is the verb "can". The subject is omitted. This is quite common in subordinate and non-finite clauses. You can "understand" a subject from the meaning and context; what can (or can't) be measured? It must be the "rural standards". You could rephrase with an explicit subject

As well as the rural standard can be measured, ...

or use a pronoun to refer forward

As well as they can be measured,...

But these are not required in this subordinate clause.

It might be worth noting that there are two more verbs: "be" and "measured". These are non-finite verbs (an infinitive and a past participle respectively) They also omit their subjects, but the understood subject is the same for each, "rural standards"

  • As far as I know, a finite verb can never be an object to a preposition, and an introductory phrase can never contain a finite verb. If "as well as can be measured" is an introductory phrase, it shouldn't contain a special kind of finite verb "can". If "as well as can be measured" is a non-finite clause, it shouldn't contain a special kind of finite verb "can", either. Independent clause may omit subject while retain finite verb, but the clause in question is a dependent clause. Apr 20, 2023 at 9:04
  • Well a introductory phrase can contain a finite verb. Just stick it in a relative or content clause : Opening the door that was made of stone, ..." (was is finite) Or use "when" "When the man had crossed the road, ...." (again "had" is finite). You can call "as" a conjunction if that's better.
    – James K
    Apr 20, 2023 at 9:22
  • Thanks for reply.formation about introductory phrase says that an introductory phrase can't contain a finite verb unless it contain a relative or content clause which "as well as can be measured" doesn't contain. Besides, "When the man had crossed the road" is definitely a clause, rather than a phrase. Apr 20, 2023 at 11:23
  • @Billj can probably answer this better than I. I'll defer to him.
    – James K
    Apr 20, 2023 at 12:52

The subject of a subordinate clause introduced by "as" sometimes gets dropped. This is not common but entirely grammatical. For example:

As befits a place owned by an architect, there’s not a cranny unused.

(Marina O'Loughlin, "Table 11, Glasgow: ‘I don’t mind a bowl of homemade crisps as pre-dessert,’" The Guardian, 29 July 2016)

In your case, you could infer the pronoun "they", whose referent would be "rural standards of living":

As well as [[they]] can be measured, rural standards of living improved in the Fifth Reign.

However, it would be more usual to infer the dummy subject "it":

As well as [[it]] can be measured, rural standards of living improved in the Fifth Reign.

I say "more usual" because there are many situations in which an anaphoric (or cataphoric) pronoun wouldn't work but a dummy pronoun would. You may be interested in this ELU question: https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/562557/as-befits-or-as-befit

  • Thanks so much for your answer. The URL of the reference is [link](toefl.kmf.com/detail/read/21eppj.html ) , but I'm not sure if you can open that webpage because of damn GFW, as it is a website in China. I have tried to google the reference but find nothing, maybe due to right reserved or something. May 27, 2023 at 13:25
  • I finally have found the answer in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Whenever "as" implies comparison, the object compared should always be omitted in the clause which "as" introduce. In the original, the object compared is "the degree of rural standards of living improved", so it must be omitted in the adverb clause, which happen to be the subject. May 27, 2023 at 13:29

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