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To prepare for the next monthly exam, our teacher wrote a sample essay that included this sentence:

Sport is to our life what exercise is to our body.

But the teacher herself cannot explain the structure of this sentence :(

Is it correct? I think

(What sport is (to our life) ) is (what exercise is (to our body) ).

is the correct expression.

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  • What do you mean that you cannot analyze it? Where is there a mistake?
    – tchrist
    Oct 8, 2023 at 13:14
  • You might instead say "(The relationship of sport to our life) is similar to (the relationship of exercise to our body)." There is a curious plural/singular form in "our life" and then again in "our body".
    – Henry
    Oct 8, 2023 at 13:26
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    The initial sentence is fine, A reordering is 'What exercise is to our body. sport is to our life.' This sort of comparison is known as a proportionality [relation]. Better known is the mathematical variety, 'A is to B as C is to D' or 'A : B :: C : D'. The comparison in maths is confined to ratios: 'the scale factor between A and B is the same as that between C and D'. Thus 17 : 119 :: 8 : 56 (identical scale factor, 7). Oct 8, 2023 at 13:26
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    As is more common than what in this construction. Oct 8, 2023 at 15:42
  • Understood. My English is really "Chinglish" :(
    – KaiKai
    Oct 8, 2023 at 16:17

1 Answer 1

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The simple answer is yes, "A is to B what C is to D" is a common and natural structure.

It means A's relationship to B is the same as C's relationship to D.

So, for example, if you know that A is B's daughter, then you also know that C is D's daughter.

Or if you want to express to a soccer fan that Wayne Gretzky is the greatest hockey player of all time, you might say, Gretzky is to hockey what Messi is to soccer.

So about your example sentence, I think the words are poetic nonsense, but a clearer way to say the same thing is:

Sport has the same role in our lives that exercise has for our body.

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