Identity is not equivalence

I caught this odd verbiage in a leader article in The Times last week (7 June 2020). It was commenting on the outcome of the vote by Conservative members of Parliament on a motion of no confidence in party leader (and Prime Minister), Boris Johnson. It said that the people supporting the motion were 148 of his colleagues, equivalent to more than 40% of the parliamentary party.

There is no need to include equivalent to here. The 148 members are more than 48% of the parliamentary party. In fact, including equivalent to here is distinctly odd. It implies a translation of the 148 members into some other measuring scale, not just into a ratio.

If the reader feels the need for some adjective, equal would be better than equivalent. But here, even equal is unnecessary.


  1. I agree that “equivalent to” in the phrase “148 of his colleagues, equivalent to more than 40 per cent of the parliamentary party” is more than superfluous, it’s wrong.

    That got me thinking about the comma after the word “colleagues”.
    The purpose of that comma is to set off the clause that follows as a descriptive clause.

    The Times sentence on which Peter commented was, in full:

    “Just two and a half years after the prime minister led his party to an 80-seat majority in a general election, 148 of his colleagues, equivalent to more than 40 per cent of the parliamentary party, voted to dump him.”

    If the words “equivalent to” are deleted (for the sound reasons given by Peter), is the comma the best punctuation to set off the resulting descriptive clause?

    I think that “equivalent to” added an abruptness – an emphasis – to segregate the descriptive clause that is now missing. That such a huge percentage of Johnson’s party colleagues voted to oust him is shocking, and “equivalent to” added shock value.

    Descriptive clauses can be set off with a variety of punctuation marks, including parentheses, commas, colons, and em dashes. I haven’t found well-accepted rules on the circumstances in which each of those should be used. But one thing grammarians seem to agree on is that the em dash is the most emphatic of the lot.

    So, in this case, I would use em dashes to replace the shock value that is lost by deleting “equivalent to”.

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