Avoiding “as of”

Great care should be taken in translating time-related prepositions (voorzetsels) like vanaf, tot en met and per. It doesn’t help that some of the English expressions are not clear at all. For example, “as of” (like its British cousin “as at”) is used all the time by English speakers — but in various, often unclear ways.

Example of how unclear “as of” can be

On 24 March 2014, there was a story in the BBC about the problems of the Co-op Bank, a British bank. The BBC article included this statement:

The Co-operative Bank said that as of the end of 2013, it had cut 1,000 staff equating to about 14% of its total.

This is a great example of how English speakers sometimes use “as of” in an unclear way. In this sentence, did the BBC mean to say that the bank had cut 14% of its staff at the end of 2013, since the end of 2013 or in the period before the end of 2013?

It’s really not clear at all from the wording itself.

A close look at the verb and verb tense usually sheds light on how “as of” is being used in an English sentence. However, in this sentence, the verb and verb tense are not helpful. This happens once in a while.

Looking at the context is often another way of determining how “as of” is being used. But in this BBC article, the context also does not help.

The Reuters article on the same story is a little clearer on this point:

The bank had reduced its loan book by 2 billion pounds by the end of 2013 and cut its staff by 1,000 or 14 percent.

The Financial Times article is also clearer:

In 2013 he cut 1,000 jobs and reduced its non-core loan book by about £2bn.

From these two other articles, it seems that the “as of” was used in the BBC article in the sense of tot en met. It may be surprising to some Dutch legal professionals to see that tot en met is even an option here. “As of” is indeed used in this way by English speakers all the time, as well as in several other completely different senses.

English dictionaries define the expression differently. Merriam-Webster says “as of” indicates the start or end of a period. Oxford says “as of” indicates only the start of a period. The American Heritage Dictionary says it means “on”.

You’d think that the confusion surrounding “as of” is a minor language point. However, in legal writing the concise expression of time periods is a huge issue. The construction of “as of” was an issue in the 2007 Supreme Court of the Netherlands PontMeyer case.

A few guidelines on using “as of”

Because of the lack of clarity, it’s best to avoid “as of” (and its British cousin “as at”) as a preposition of time. Find a better alternative.

When you come across an unclear “as of” in English, look at the verb, verb tense and context to see how the phrase is being used. Usually (but not always), these clues help make it clear.

It’s a mistake — and, in the right situation, potentially a grave error — to think that “as of” has a single, direct Dutch equivalent. Indeed, you should be reluctant to translate any Dutch time expression as “as of”.

Although not recommended, it is true that sometimes vanaf or per can be adequately translated as “as of” without too much confusion (especially if the verb, verb tense and context are right); however, vanaf and “as of” are not equivalents, and per and “as of” are not equivalents.

There are specific ways to express vanaf, per and tot en met in clear legal writing, but this short post is not the place to explain all the various possible time expressions in detail.

“But it is used by English speakers!”

I do realise that English-speaking lawyers use “as of” all the time. However, they too are warned by legal writing experts to avoid it. Most English-speaking lawyers seem to be unaware that “as of” is problematic and shouldn’t be used as a preposition of time, especially in precise legal writing. Part of the problem is that, because the phrase “as of” has a rather nice legal ring to it, it seems precise. Actually, the exact opposite is the case. Bryan Garner calls this “the myth of precision” (DMLU).

Correct use of “as of”

To complicate things further, “as of” has a conventional legal usage of which many Dutch lawyers seem to be completely unaware. “As of” and “as at” can be used occasionally in certain standard expressions to indicate a notional date, e.g. “Balance Sheet as of 31 December 2013”. This usage is correct.

As Kenneth Adams warns, however, even this usage can be problematic and should be used with reserve.

Greg Korbee (Originally published March 2014. Republished March 2019.)

All rights reserved. Liability disclaimer applies.

Leave a Reply