"As Well."

James Harbeck jharbeck at SYMPATICO.CA
Wed May 9 02:30:40 UTC 2007

>well, different people make different stylistic choices.  you seem to
>be assuming that "also" and "too" are the 'right' choices to make,
>but that some people (incomprehensibly) choose to use another

Really, Arnold, I may be an editor, but I'm not thick-headed (no,
really -- I can produce plenty of character references) and I'm not a
prescriptivist. I use "as well" all the time, and I don't think it's
wrong at all. (I note that I used "as well" in a posting on this list
on April 9. I also used it -- in sentence-initial position, even --
in my doctoral dissertation -- which was at Tufts, which is of course
in the US. And I've used it uncountable other times. Trust me, I have
no prejudice against it.)

What I'm saying is just that some authors invariably choose "as well"
rather than sometimes choosing "also" or "too" as many authors would.
It's not incomprehensible at all; it seems pretty clear to me why
they do it, and any Canadian could reasonably choose "as well" in any
of these instances -- but most of them will sometimes choose "also"
or "too". So the thoroughgoing use of "as well" is notable as a
stylistic choice simply because the authors never seem to use the
other available options, and it's an interesting indicator of the
acceptability and position of this usage in Canadian English.

>but your criticism seems to be levelled at *all* the uses of "as
>well" (vs. "too" and "also").  this i find puzzling, since the
>sentence-final focus particle "as well" is entirely standard.  (over
>70 occurrences in the NYT during the past month, many of them in
>serious reporting.)

Could you show me where I made a criticism? I was unaware of making
any sort of criticism at all, and I'm frankly puzzled at your
characterization of my observations as such. When I say that some
people seem allergic to using "too" or "also", that's not meant as an
expression of disgust with "as well", it's merely an observation that
some people seem to avoid the other two. (Insistent use of one
variant when others are available can become tiresome, of course, but
this is so regardless of the variant.) I mentioned it as an indicator
of how common and accepted "as well" is here. I was surprised to
learn that it may not be universally so in the US.

>  > This is, not surprisingly, especially
>>  common among businesspeople and others who want their writing to
>>  sound more important.
>in what way does final "as well" 'sound more important' than "too" or
>"also"?  maybe you have this feeling, but i don't, and i don't see
>any of the usageists complaining about it.

In my experience, "as well" tends to show up more often in prose that
is more formal overall in tone. This is not surprising to me, since
in Canada I find that it does have a more formal tone to it, perhaps
because it has more syllables but perhaps for other reasons yet to be
discerned; I'd be interested in a study to find out, but, as you
point out, it's not an easy thing to study, because if you just ask
people you never get accurate results, so you need to do a lot more
work -- association with register might be productive, and initially
suggestive results may perhaps even be forthcoming from correlation
with percentage of prepositional phrases in a given text (yes, a very
coarse approach), for instance, but even that much is a fair piece of
work. But the formality judgement comes from my experience as a
Canadian. It makes sense that you, an American, might feel
differently about it, and I should have remembered that what seems
plain enough to a speaker of one dialect may not at all seem so to a
speaker of another.

As to the issue of complaints, again, I'm not complaining, any more
than I would be complaining if I said "use of 'therefore' is, not
surprisingly, especially common among those writers who want their
writing to sound more clinical or formal" -- something I have also
observed, and don't find surprising, as it's a low-frequency word
associated most strongly with certain more formal registers. (If it's
not, please show me the stats, because I'd be fascinated -- really!)

>sentence-initial "as well" doesn't produce potential ambiguities.
>it's set off by intonation (or, in writing, a comma) and pretty much
>has to be understood as a discourse-linking sentence adverbial.

I agree with that, and I hope I didn't seem to be saying otherwise.

>now, sentence-final "as well" can produce potential ambiguities,
>according to which element in the preceding sentence is focused on.
>but the all the final focus particles, "also" and "too" included, can
>produce such ambiguities:

What I was getting at is that some authors will write, for instance,
"John is a professional oboist, and his teenage daughter Sylvia plays
as well" rather than writing, say, "...and his teenage daughter
Sylvia also plays" so as to avoid the possible interpretation that
she plays with equal ability. This is an indication of the privilege
that "as well" can get and also of just how common and accepted it
is, and I find that this privileging is more common among writers who
want to sound more formal. Evidently you find this more surprising
than I do. This discussion is turning up all sorts of interesting

James Harbeck.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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