How does 'according as' = 'Depending on whether' ?



I've read the definition and am not asking about it:

according as = 'Depending on whether'

  1. Instead, I'd like to learn how to anatomize/unravel according as to determine/deduce this definition on the right hand side: 'Depending on whether'. Please explain the steps or thought processes? It was used here.

  2. What part of speech is as here? It appears to be used specially and unusually. Does it accord with any definition at


Posted 2014-08-14T14:46:40.903

Reputation: 8 167

Question was closed 2014-09-16T12:56:38.127


The cited usage is in a letter written in the mid-1700s. It's not really idiomatically "valid" today, so I don't really see much point in attempting to "analyse" how *as* works there in terms of contemporary usage (which I assume is what most ELL users are interested in).

– FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2014-08-14T14:55:43.037

5FWIW, in the cited *according as the judges in their discretion shall direct to be inflicted [blah blah]*, the highlighted element doesn't exactly mean *depending on whether* - it means *in accordance with how*. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2014-08-14T14:59:32.817

5This question appears to be off-topic because it's not about learning English. The OP already understands how this expression is used and doesn't need to learn it―they're just curious about its history. – snailplane – 2014-09-16T05:46:37.767



As FumbleFingers points out

  1. This is an old idiom, little used today: according to Google Ngrams it has been declining steadily since the end of the 17th century. You should suspect that a phrase so little used in PDE will have drifted somewhat from its original meaning.

  2. In the passage you cite it does not bear the sense you offer, Merriam-Webster 2.b “depending on whether” (alongside 2.a “depending on how”), but Merriam-Webster 1 “in accord with the way in which”. In fact, OED 1 gives only meanings closely related to M-W 1, but none similar to M-W 2. The A-Ant fascicle of OED 1 was published in 1884; clearly M-W 2 is a 20th-century extension.

The derivation of sense 1. is easy to discern. According as an adverb was from its first appearance in English roughly equivalent to the modern accordingly: it meant ‘in accord / concord / correspondence / agreement (with), consistently (with), correspondingly or proportionally (to)”. As here has one of its common senses—in the dictionary you point to, sense 2:

used to indicate by comparison the way that something happens or is done

Put the two together and you have “in accord with the way in which something happens or is done”—exactly the sense in which Hamilton uses it.

And it is no more difficult to see how the modern sense, “depending on how / whether”, arises out of that meaning. If matter A is required to be in some respect “in accord with” matter B, it is in that respect dependent on matter B. For instance, if we say that “Men are to be rewarded according as they deserve it”, then their rewards are dependent on their deserts.

StoneyB on hiatus

Posted 2014-08-14T14:46:40.903

Reputation: 176 469

Thank you. For the modern definition (quoted in my OP), which definition of as matches? – AYX.CLDR – 2015-05-08T01:32:53.860

@LawArea51Proposal-Commit *According as" is an idiom; by definition you cannot assign distinct meanings to its components. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2015-05-08T01:42:53.180

Thanks. Though it's an idiom (by definition, which can't be dissected), what are some right ways of interpreting the meaning of as, to make it feel reasonable and intuitive? – AYX.CLDR – 2015-05-08T02:27:06.607

@LawArea51Proposal-Commit Well, it's the particle employed in comparisons of likeness (as ... as, so ... as), contrasting with than (more/less/bigger/&c ... than) in comparisons of unlikeness, and you might understand according as as a sort of comparative. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2015-05-08T02:36:14.320

Thanks again. You wrote particle, but particles don't carry meaning themselves. Did you mean some other lexical category? Like {conjunction} 2. Used to indicate by comparison the way that something happens or is done ? Or {adverb} 1. adverb 1Used in comparisons to refer to the extent or degree of something ? Would you please confirm which definition of ass matches?

– AYX.CLDR – 2015-05-08T02:44:47.373