E-Mail 'As versus so in negative comparisons' To A Friend

Email a copy of 'As versus so in negative comparisons' to a friend

* Required Field

Separate multiple entries with a comma. Maximum 5 entries.

Separate multiple entries with a comma. Maximum 5 entries.

E-Mail Image Verification

Loading ... Loading ...


  • I am 27 years old, from California, working at a publishing company in Taiwan. I am currently writing English textbooks for ESL learners and just came across this problem of choosing to between teaching “not so … as” or “not as … as” in our books. I personally would choose to go with “not as … as” but my manager seems to favor “not so … as” because of her experience with the TOEIC testing here.
    What are your thoughts? What do you think I should do?

  • I used to be involved in TOEIC testing and never came across any particular strictures regarding the use of “not as … as”. Can you quote me chapter and verse?

    As a corpus linguist of philosophical inclinations, I would propose the following formula: “If Idea X can be expressed by both Usage Y and Usage Z, then, if Y can be shown to be more frequent than Z in expressing X, we have no grounds for deeming Y to be unacceptable and Z acceptable (though both could be acceptable).”

    Or, as Joseph Priestley put it rather more elegantly in 1762: “Those who wrote in the language while it was a living one will be accounted the standards of it; and even their imperfections must be adopted by all who use it after them.”

  • Loving the Priestley quote, John. (I wanted to claim him as a Brummie, but I see that he just lived here, from 1780-1791). I have to say I had never encountered these strictures against ‘not as … as’ and I’m well over 40. The ‘so’ version just strikes me as a little more formal. And in the corpus I consulted (enTenTen) the disparity in terms of numbers was even greater than your numbers from 2007. So it seems like ‘so’ is on the way out.

  • I had “as well, but not so well” drummed into me in school in the ’60s, and have been using it ever since. I’m willing to change. I just need someone to blame. I do proofreading for friends.

  • One of my earliest usage memories–so with the negative comparison. Using it tends to emphasize the negative. Learned grammar and usage in the US in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Private Catholic school.

    My other recollection: use of the gerund where it is modified by an adjective especially a personal adjective as in:

    I appreciate his coming to visit (not him coming).

  • I am a free-lance writer 85 years of age. I was emphatically taught that the construction should be “not so well as.” This is so ingrained that if I should slip and write “not as well as” alarms go off in my head and immediate correction occurs.

  • Thank you for your comment, David. I think many of us stick to what we were taught at school, because as you say these early lessons are deeply ingrained.

  • In the example “He did not do as well as the experts had expected”

    His result and the experts’ expectation should be weighed.

    If the experts predicted 95% and he scored 90% then:
    “He did not do as well as the experts had expected”

    If the experts predicted a bad score then
    “He did not do so well as the experts had expected”

    There is very different meaning attached to “as well” vs “so well”

  • Hi Julius,

    Thanks for your comment. I’ve not heard that distinction before but it would be interesting to test it against corpus data. I could set that as a task for my lexicology undergraduates.