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Just a short while ago I edited a question published on EL&U(1) and, doing this, I added the following paragraph:

The words that express the tangible and visible things of our experience, such as sand or sea, are all nouns, as they are those expressing intangibles such as love or idealism.

Is it proper English "as they are those expressing intangibles such as love or idealism"?

I'm not sure if using they are there is correct and, when editing, other possibilities that came to my mind were:

  • "as those expressing intangibles such as love or idealism";

  • "as those expressing intangibles, such as love or idealism, are".

What is the rule governing the way in which that sentence can be correctly written? And what is the correct version?

(1) After Stoney's comment I edited again the original question in order to remove the grammaatical error.

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    The first pronoun is redundant with the second, and misplaced. What you want is "as are those expressing..." – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 29 '13 at 20:14
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    I think you mean “just a few minutes ago” and “I noticed the following”. – Tyler James Young Aug 29 '13 at 20:19
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    (Also Carlo, can we have a link to the ELU question?) – WendiKidd Aug 29 '13 at 20:48
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    @Carlo_R. Downvotes are probably based on the original revision, but I can't be sure; I'm not an ELU mod :) – WendiKidd Aug 29 '13 at 21:35
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    The inversion is demanded for by the "weight" of the subject. Colloquially we would say "They are all nouns, as those are". Formally we may also say "...as are those". But in any register you pretty much have to say "... as are those which are qualified by a long string of words", because that's just too long to postpone your verb and expect people to remember where the clause started. In any case, you don't want "as they are those", which is two subjects for one verb. – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 29 '13 at 22:02
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I think the relevant "rule" is that subject normally precedes verb in English. But in OP's example the subject is quite a long noun phrase, so putting are at the end is awkward, to say the least. Thus,...

1: Most Syrians are law-abiding folk, as we are
2: Most Syrians are law-abiding folk, as are we who debate whether US intervention would be legal.

But that may not be the whole story. The basic construction X is [something], as is Y is something of a "set format", so even in my example #1 above, as are we would be perfectly normal phrasing. Overall though, I'd say this is an aspect of grammar that owes more to the past than to the present or future.

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In the question, "they are" is incorrect; native speakers would omit "they". In fact, including "they" makes the sentence very difficult to decipher, so this isn't a fine point; it's a gross error. (Your example without "they" but with "are" at the end is fine, though.)

But why is it a gross error? To understand that, we need to undo the heavy ellipsis that otherwise makes the sentence so elegant. I'll put brackets where I changed things.

"The words that express the tangible and visible things of our experience, such as sand or sea, are all nouns, [and] those words expressing intangibles such as love or idealism [are nouns]."

The use of "as" lets you omit the complement "noun". That gets us to:

"The words that express the tangible and visible things of our experience, such as sand or sea, are all nouns, as those words expressing intangibles such as love or idealism [are]."

If this were any verb besides "to be" that "[are]" would be "[do]" by the way.

Then, since English allows verb fronting under most circumstances we end up with:

"The words that express the tangible and visible things of our experience, such as sand or sea, are all nouns, as are those words expressing intangibles such as love or idealism."

The fronting "feels" better in this case, I think, because otherwise the "are" is too far away.

Hope all that helps a bit.

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  • Greg, excellent answer in its articulation, +1. – user114 Aug 31 '13 at 20:55

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