“As Well As” Does Not Mean “And”

By Maeve Maddox

A reader asks,

Will you please comment on the use of “as well as” as used below:

“Deng Xiaoping made a significant contribution with his theoretical courage of Marxism, matter-of-fact attitude, rich experience, as well as his foresight and sagacity.”

“As well as” doesn’t seem to me to be equivalent to “and.”

According to Merriam-Webster, “as well as” is equivalent to and:

as well as conjunction: and in addition, and.

According to The Chicago Manual of Style, however, it is not:

Note that the phrase as well as is not equivalent to and.

WRONG: The team fielded one Mazda, two Corvettes, three Bugattis, as well as a battered Plymouth Belvedere.
RIGHT: The team fielded one Mazda, two Corvettes, and three Bugattis, as well as a battered Plymouth Belvedere.— 6.18

The phrase “as well as” and the single word and are not equivalents because and joins two elements of equal importance, but “as well as” places more emphasis on one of the elements. Compare:

My dog and cat bring me things to throw.
My cat and dog bring me things to throw.
My cat, as well as my dog, brings me things to throw.

In the first two sentences, no distinction is made between cat and dog. In the third sentence, an unequal emphasis is placed upon cat, suggesting that there is something notable about the action as it applies to the cat.

This use of “as well as” is similar to the correlative “not only…but also,” but the emphasis falls on the element that precedes “as well as.”

Note: When “as well as” is mistakenly perceived to mean and, problems of agreement arise. Chicago addresses this in Paragraph 5.133:

[The intervening “as well as”] seems to create a compound subject, and [a] modifying prepositional phrase may itself contain one or more plural objects. If the singular verb sounds awkward in such a sentence, it may be better to use the conjunction and instead:

WRONG: The bride as well as her bridesmaids were dressed in mauve.
RIGHT: The bride as well as her bridesmaids was dressed in mauve.
BETTER: The bride and her bridesmaids were dressed in mauve.

If no contrasting emphasis is intended, and is the better choice.

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4 Responses to ““As Well As” Does Not Mean “And””

  • Lauren @ Pure Text

    Amen. Tweeting this one.

    One thing, though: In one of the lines, the second and third “and” aren’t set apart with quotation marks (or italics), so it’s quite confusing. I had to read the line a few times to understand it.

    “The phrase “as well as” and the single word and are not equivalents because and joins two elements of equal importance, but “as well as” places more emphasis on one of the elements.”

  • Agua Caliente

    There is, as well, the proliferating practice of beginning a sentence with “As well,”. I find this excruciating to mine eyes.

    Now then, since my usual resource (spouse) is out and about, I would like to ask why “My cat, as well as my dog, brings me things to throw” uses the singular. I get it about the difference in importance and that “as well” != “and,” but aren’t both the cat and the dog bringing you things to throw? Is there a structure here I don’t understand? (That is quite possible.) Thank you.

  • Oliver Lawrence

    I don’t believe that “The bride as well as her bridesmaids was dressed in mauve.” is right, because if “as well as her bridesmaids” is not intended to be part of the grammatical subject, then it should be hived off within commas: “The bride, as well as her bridesmaids, was dressed in mauve.”
    Alternatively, “Like her bridesmaids, the bride was dressed in mauve.”

  • Michael W. Perry

    I’m almost with Chicago on this one. I use “as well as” when a series joined by commas and “and” is likely to confuse readers.

    It’s not necessarily that the “as well as” item or items (since it can be used to introduce another series) is more important. It’s just that what’s written become clearer if that list is broken up. Typically, that’s where there’s a difference between what is in the two lists. For example:

    “George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin, as well as most of the Americans who supported the Revolution, agreed that Britain’s King George was abusing his power.”

    “As well as” makes a clear distinction between specific individuals and a more general category of people. Neither is more important. They’re simply different enough that separating them reads a bit better.

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