As Long As We’re on This Topic: Using “as long as” with multiple meanings

It never ceases to surprise me how a small grammar question throws me into a quest for information so that I can offer the best explanation possible. A member of my forum asked me about as long as this week, and even as I began to write my initial response, I realized I was only touching the tip of the iceberg.

The learner heard the line “as long as you love me” in a song and asked about the meaning. Was it really part of a conditional statement? Likely, but I’d need to see all the lyrics to understand the context. My first response to the learner addressed only two possible meanings of as long as: condition and time. (Examples: As long as you are careful, you may borrow my laptop. = condition, “if” or “provided that” / You can keep that book for as long as you want. = time, “for that length of time”) Looking at different dictionary entries, I was reminded that as long as could also express reason, much like the conjunction since. (As long as we’re on this topic… = Since we’re on this topic…).

How challenging! Not only can as along as express three different meanings (time, reason, condition), it also has structural variations: so long as and for as long as. I also began to create examples to become aware of patterns in syntax. No wonder there were doubts about the meanings and uses of as long as. There is quite a lot of variation possible.  I started to see how as a time expression, (for) as long as tended to appear after the verb and in a final position. In contrast, adverb clauses of condition and reason with as long as can have an initial or final position.  (Example:  You may borrow my laptop as long as you are careful.)

If you wish to help learners clear up any doubts and deepen their understanding about as long as, please consider using my As Long As_handout. I hope you agree with my explanations. Please feel free to comment or offer suggestions.

Also, you may like to check out different song lyrics with this structure. How about the theme song to an old TV show? As Long As We’ve Got Each Other from Growing Pains.

Sources:

http://www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/long_2

http://www.learnersdictionary.com/definition/long%5b2%5d

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