Article of the week: The correct use of as well as

By Marina Pantcheva

As well as is one of the most frequent, still most misused, conjunction in administrative and academic texts. There are two mistakes commonly made regarding its use.

Two common problems

There are two common problems with the use of as well as. The first one relates to its meaning — as well as is often used as a synonym for and, which it is not.

Swedish is spoken in Sweden, as well as in parts of Finland. [incorrect]

The second problem concerns the form of the verb following as well as.  Can you find the mistakes in the following sentences?

John, as well as Mary, want to drop the course. [incorrect]
Running is healthy as well as it makes you feel good. [incorrect]
Sarah draws as well as designs clothes.
[incorrect]

As well as is not a synonym for and

As well as cannot be used to mean and. The expression X as well as Y  means not only Y but also X (note that X and Y are reversed). While and simply conjoins two (or more) expressions, as well as places unequal emphasis on the two expressions — the expression preceding as well as carries a stronger emphasis than the expression following it.

John, as well as Mary, came to the party. [not only Mary but also John; emphasis on John]
The programme aims to recruit Sami students as well as students from other countries. [not only students from other countries but also Sami students; emphasis on Sami students]

Now you see that the sentence:

Swedish is spoken in Sweden, as well as in parts of Finland. [incorrect]

means:

Swedish is spoken not only in parts of Finland, but also in Sweden. [Imagine! What a surprise!]

It is therefore wrong to use as well as simply in order to avoid a repetition of and, as in the sentence below.

The university focuses on education, research and development, as well as dissemination. [incorrect if all three areas are equally important and none is to be emphasized]

as well as does not make subjects plural

In the sentence

John, as well as Mary, want to drop the course. [incorrect]

the verb want must agree with the noun preceding as well as in this case.

John, as well as Mary, wants to drop the course. [correct]

In other words, when as well as is part of the subject, the verb must agree with the noun before as well as.

Verbs after as well as come in –ing form

When we put a verb after as well as, we use the -ing form of the verb. (This might sound really strange to a non-native speaker, but the grammar books agree on this.)

Running is healthy as well as making you feel good.
He broke the window, as well as destroying the wall.
She draws as well as designing clothes.

Note the difference between the last sentence and the next one:

She draws as well as she designs clothes.
[Her drawing is as good as her designing]

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