Grammar Gremlins: As Such, Therefore I . . .

Honorary Grammar Gremlin Donna Maloy recently sent me an impassioned text message beginning “Please, please explain to people the difference between ‘as such’ and ‘therefore’.” In all honesty, this is not something I’d ever given much thought to, but when I googled “as such” vs “therefore,” I found quite a few folks in agreement with Donna, although not all of them agreed with one another. Something must be done, and the Gremlins will attempt to sort it out.

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The trick here is that in some cases we can slip either one into a sentence without doing much to change the meaning, while in other cases, grammatically at least, “as such” just isn’t correct.

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“Therefore” is technically an adverb, according to Webster’s New World Dictionary, meaning “as a result of this or that,” “for this or that reason,” “consequently,” or “hence,” often acting to join together two parts of a sentence (or as Webster’s puts it, “often acting with conjunctive force,”).

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“Such,” by itself, is an adjective, but combined with “as” it functions as a pronoun, referring back to (again, per Webster’s) “what is indicated or suggested,” in which case the phrase “as such” may also act with conjunctive force (I really like that description!).

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In short, “as such” requires an antecedent, something to refer back to, while “therefore” does not.

The vampire was a scary dude; as such (as a scary dude) he terrified the town.

The vampire was a scary dude; therefore (consequently) he terrified the town.

The vampire showed his fangs; as such (as what? Fangs? No!) he scared his latest victim.

The vampire showed his fangs; therefore (for that reason) he scared his latest victim.

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None of the above are deathless prose, but the first, second, and fourth are correct usage. The third sentence is not, because “as fangs he scared his latest victim” makes no sense.

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If you’re tempted to use “as such,” ask yourself “as what?” The answer should be a noun.

The cat was curious; as such (as what?) it leaned too far and fell off the table. Use “therefore” for this one.

The cat is a curious animal; as such (as a curious animal) it often gets in over its head.

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If you’re using “therefore,” make sure what follows is a consequence of what came before.

The cat is a curious animal; therefore nothing on the table is safe. Definitely true—and correct.

The cat is a curious animal; therefore it drinks milk and eats kibble. Both may be true, but there’s no connection. Make this one into two sentences.

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“As such” does have another meaning: “in itself,” as in (again, per Webster’s) “A name, as such, means nothing.” Even in this usage, there is an antecedent (“name”), but the conjunctive force is missing. (And “A name, therefore, means nothing” would have an entirely different meaning.)

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Thanks to Donna for suggesting this one. If you have something you’d like the Gremlins to look into (when they’re not pushing things off the table or trying unsuccessfully to scare people), just let us know.

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