A question from Fulia in Afghanistan:
I need your assistance! I'm now studying the several uses of SO and SUCH, and I'm in doubt if I should use one or the other in the following sentence:
"The human brain is SUCH A complex mechanism that it can create (SO or SUCH?) extraordinary machines, and yet it has SUCH flexibility that it can ask itself how they can be SO clever!"
When should 'so' and 'such' be used - 'so / such'?
Hello Fulia and thank you for such a good question about an area which can be so confusing. 'So' and 'such' can both be used to emphasis or intensify something. A little bit like the word 'very'.
We use 'such' before a noun, and we use 'so' before an adjective. For example: "I am so happy today".
'Happy' is the adjective - I use 'so'... "I am so happy today"
The second example:
"I feel such happiness today."
'Happiness' is the noun - we use 'such'... "I feel such happiness today."
However, and this is something to be careful of, people often get confused when the noun already has an adjective. For example: 'a happy person'.
The noun is 'person', the adjective is 'happy'.
In these cases, we use 'such': "He is such a happy person."
We do not use 'so'.
Referring back to Fulia's question, we see "The human brain is 'such' a complex mechanism..." We use 'such' because of the noun 'mechanism'. We do not worry about the adjective 'complex'. Her example continues with a noun: "And yet it has 'such' flexibility..." and finally with an adjective "they can be 'so' clever."
Fulia's example sentence is a great one because it shows the main rules for 'so' and 'such'.
To finish, when you are going to use 'so' and 'such', check to see if you are emphasising a noun phrase or an adjective without a noun. If it is a noun phrase, use 'such'.
Well I hope that's not so difficult and, Fulia, that you are such a good student of English that you will keep learning and writing to the BBC.
Gareth Rees has been an English language teacher and teacher trainer for over 10 years. He is currently a lecturer at London Metropolitan University and his first course book for English Language learners is due to be published in 2007.
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