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The environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.
(Source: Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs by Greg Smith (March 14, 2012). The New York Times.)

I wonder. Why does the sentence not end with "....ever seen"? There is this strange it at the end, and I do not know the grammatical structure underlying beneath it.

Usually when "as...as" construction is used, comparative deletion takes place, omitting the part of speech that is being compared. Like this:

The man was as strong(adj.) as I am __ (slot for the omitted adjective, strong).

So why is it, which represents "environment", a noun that is being repeated in the subordinate clause(? I think it is..), used in the sentence?

  • 2
    There is likely an elided "to be" missing from the end. – Catija Jul 6 '16 at 23:18
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    It's a perfectly normal construction. Although it might be helpful for a learner (struggling with parsing) to think of "to be" as having been "dropped", in most such contexts native speakers would find it really weird if that additional element were explicitly included. Nobody ever says He's as angry as I've ever seen him to be (or even weirder, ...as angry as I've ever seen him to be angry, which is actually what the hypothetical "full version" would be). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 7 '16 at 1:40
  • @FumbleFingers Yes, yes. We learners have this obsession with parsing! If I can't parse it, I don't understand it. – whitedevil Jul 7 '16 at 2:14
  • Note that the only obligatory deletion in fact has been carried out, deletion of toxic and destructive. – StoneyB on hiatus Jul 7 '16 at 9:34
  • @StoneyB: Actually, on looking at it again, I think if I were told I had to "reinstate" at least something at the end, I'd prefer just be rather than to be. Not sure how that relates to He's as angry as can be (I assume reduced from He's as angry as he can be angry), where you can't delete be. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 7 '16 at 12:16
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The question in the post raises two vital issues:(a)retaining of "IT" (b) transformation of comparative to positive with as...as correlative.

We would take up (b) first for it can be explained summarily. After last 'as' of two "ASs" we drop words that are mere repetitive and use either nominal or objective form of personal pronouns. However subjective forms with or without verb are avoided as they are too formal; no doubt, you're comfortablely correct in your example.

It is important to remember that when context is of help we often think pronouns unnecessary but the irony of the situation is that they're recognized as a part of speech only for this function of substitution.

  • He plays Hockey. He plays (it) when he finds time.

  • He plays hockey when he finds time to play (it).

In the first example, standing alone the second sentence might be unclear with out the use of 'it' But from the context in the latter it is obvious hockey is referred to.

Reference may be drawn to https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pro-drop_language, which in a nutshell explains why, barring imperative sentences and informal uses nouns and pronouns are never dropped in English as subjects. Similarly when used as an object to a verb or preposition, overt pronouns are more useful in English than in some other languages.

English is not a pro-drop-language and we are not mandatorily asked to omit pronouns where they are pragmatically inferrable. We retain such pronouns to avoid ambiguities, verbal stress or any shift in reference.

So, even if without the use of IT, the sense can well be imagined, still the writer makes use of the grammaticality unnecessary Pronoun -IT- to mean how unprecedented a turn the environment has taken; he didn't imagine it.

Grammatically, the sentence can do with or without "IT".

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The environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.

In the final clause, the verb is see. When it is used about things that we observe, it is normally transitive, and so requires an object. In this case, the object is the pronoun it representing the environment.

see can also be used intransitively in this sense, so one could argue that it can correctly be omitted. The omitted pronoun version looks like this sentence:

John is the tallest man I've ever seen

But really, John is represented in this sentence by an omitted relative pronoun:

John is the tallest man [that] I've ever seen

Regarding your second sentence:

The man was as strong as I am

This is a completely different construction: environment is the subject of the first sentence, whereas strong is the complement of the second sentence, and occurs inside the first as, rather than before it.

  • Ah.... I'm not sure about transitive and intransitive explanation... – whitedevil Jul 7 '16 at 2:05
  • @whitedevil: a transitive verb requires an object, "I like it.": you can't say "I like.". An intransitive verb does not have an object: "I sleep.". With this meaning, see can be either transitive (more common in my opinion) or intransitive. – JavaLatte Jul 7 '16 at 2:08
  • Yes, you are right, but then you are getting rid of the implied "environment" once you use the intransitive "See", wouldn't you agree? – whitedevil Jul 7 '16 at 2:12
  • You are getting rid of the pronoun that represents the environment, but the environment is still there at the beginning of the sentence: it's presence in the second sentence is implied. As I've said, the transitive usage of see is much more common though. A parallel would be "Have you seen Jane's new hairstyle?"... "Yes, I've seen it" or "Yes, I've seen". The former is more common. – JavaLatte Jul 7 '16 at 2:31

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