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What's the difference between these two constructions?

  1. The writing class developed skills such as critical thinking, brainstorming strategies, and ways to overcome writer's block.

  2. The writing class developed such skills as critical thinking, brainstorming strategies, and ways to overcome writer's block.

2 Answers 2

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In this particular context there is no significant difference, but in other contexts there may be.

X such as A,B,C... has two significantly different uses. The list A, B, C may be either

  • restrictive: a qualification of X which may not omitted, as if to say only or specifically those X which are like A, B, C

    I prefer playwrights such as Ibsen, Shaw and Brecht to playwrights such as Wilde and Maetrlinck.

  • non-restrictive: an incidental illustration of X, as if to say for example A,B,C. When this use is intended, such as A, B, C is set off with commas or parentheses.

    I prefer politically conscious playwrights ,such as Ibsen, Shaw and Brecht to mere
    aesthetes ,such as Wilde and Maeterlinck.

Such X as A, B, C..., however "embraces" the X modified within the construction, and thus cannot be used non-restrictively.

OKI prefer such playwrights as Ibsen, Shaw and Brecht to such playwrights as Wilde and Maetrlinck.
  BUT NOT
I prefer such politically conscious playwrights as Ibsen, Shaw and Brecht to such mere
aesthetes as Wilde and Maeterlinck.

Note that such can act as a pronoun, so you may if you like drop the second instance of X:

OKI prefer such playwrights as Ibsen, Shaw and Brecht to such Ø as Wilde and Maetrlinck.

In my own writing I mark the restrictive/non-restrictive distinction a little more systematically by using X such as A, B, C... only non-restrictively; but I doubt anybody notices, and you are by no means bound to follow my example.


marks an utterance as unacceptable
Ø marks the point at which a term has been deleted

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  • 1
    Can I assume that what you've done with the commas here is on purpose, done to draw attention to them?
    – user230
    Jun 10, 2013 at 20:20
  • I had to read this twice to actually understand what you meant by "restrictive" (I sure hope I have understood, because if not I think I disagree!). I assume in #1 you mean the list itself is a "necessary" qualifier, insofar as the sentence wouldn't make sense if you omitted the such as Ibsen, Shaw and Brecht part. It doesn't mean that only items explicitly given in the list are applicable (it's "restrictive" in the sense that only items "similar" to those in the actual list apply). Jun 10, 2013 at 20:43
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    ...that's to say, to my "inner grammarian", there's something decidedly "iffy" about using "such as" with a list that explicitly specifies every possible qualifying value. Such as ?"This algorithm only works if the input is a non-zero single-digit even integer, such as 2, 4, 6, and 8" Jun 10, 2013 at 20:51
  • @FumbleFingers Yes, you've understood me correctly. The such informs you that the list is not comprehensive: only playwrights who are like Ibsen, Shaw and Brecht. But if you have difficulty understanding, others will. I'll rewrite. Jun 10, 2013 at 21:20
  • I found this point covered on Grammar Girl, where it distinguishes between contexts where such as is part of a nonrestrictive (nonessential) clause, and where it's "restrictive" (effectively, it must be there or we'd have no idea what we're talking about because the context is just too vague). I think it's a wise choice to avoid the "restrictive" usage, because you can never be certain your audience will accurately understand the implied "category type" from any explicitly-listed examples. Jun 10, 2013 at 21:36
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I don't think there's much of a difference.

That said, when I read both sentences aloud, there's a bit more emphasis on skills in the first sentence. I also have a slight preference for the sound of the second sentence. (I have no idea whether anyone else shares this preference.)

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    While the rest of the answer is (acceptably) subjective, your first sentence is the correct answer: there is no difference. It's purely a literary choice. Jun 10, 2013 at 18:52

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