As VS And

I am far from an authority on matters of the English language. My highest English qualification is a C at English Lit A-level. But I do a lot of reading of other people’s writing, and some things more than others stick out like a sore thumb to me.

This post is going to be about a certain nitpick that gets on my nerves.

Take a look at these two sentences:

— (1) John put his coffee down as he got up from the table.
— (2) John put his coffee down and got up from the table.

What’s the difference?

I see a lot of writers, usually the newer kind, use ‘as’ in sentences like this. What that is implying is that John put his coffee down at the same time as getting up from the table. In this example it is vaguely possible, but unlikely! If you put your coffee down while getting up, you would spill it. Other examples are far less likely to be occurring at the exact same time.

— ‘John put his coat on as he opened the door to leave.’
— ‘John pulled over in his car as he answered the ringing telephone.’

People tend to use ‘as’ because they think that as a writer they will get bonus points for not using boring, repetitive words like ‘and’. Using ‘as’ makes them think they are making their voice just that bit more unique, and also perhaps making their novel have a faster sense of pace. But they don’t consider the true implications of it. You can’t put your coat on and open a door at the same time. You can’t pull over and answer a phone at the same time. At least, I highly don’t recommend it, and as a reader I generally think “Really? Is the character really doing that?”

There are some cases where ‘as’ can be used just fine.

— ‘John waved to his buddy as he strolled down the road.’

That’s fine of course, because those are two things you actually can do at the same time. Another variant to watch out for is when the word ‘as’ isn’t actually used, but is implied by the verb with ‘ing’ at the end..

— ‘John opened the cupboard door, rifling through his shirts and ties with speed.’

‘As’ implies two thinks happening at the same time. ‘And’ implies one thing happening after the other. Be sure to think which one you mean to use next time you use it!

Did you like this article? Have any thoughts of your own? Please share in the comments section!

-Vera

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10 thoughts on “As VS And

  1. This corresponds to what occurred days ago.

    When I sensed dissonance . My verb placement. Felt that the very act of long term writing is self-correcting. Without the help of an English teacher. Though now the example (now) eludes my caffeine starved brain. But look there behind this sentence it happened. Where is the proper placement of the now.

    I could just as well reposition it behind the elude which I believe would be the correct course of action. The first attempt was garnered from the spoken language, the latter now behind the elude is from the written. That’s where editing comes in, repeated readings for how things sound co-occurring with an inner grammatical guidance system developing.

    But ultimately I side with prose unencumbered with grammatical distractions.

    That’s why my reading consumption comes from the new york times or new yorker caliber writing. Early on under the spell of Strunk/White’e The Elements of Style. You are what you eat.

    In the deeper sense, you are gaining discernment. Which is a highly sought after trait for a writer, or even a human being negotiating the wiles of life.

  2. Good post. It reminds me of the importances of revising material. I know I’ve used the word “as” in stories in good and bad ways. That usually means I need to go back and check all my grammar and revise the sentences before I show the material.

  3. Oh, and there’s so much more. In the 1980s, I worked with a radio producer on the BBC World Service who had once edited for Mills & Boon. She came across a sentence that went something like this: “Her long hair concealed her heaving breast which she threw over her shoulder.” If you could do that with your boobs, you’d be more than a contortionist!

  4. Great examples! But I have and will use that “as” bit myself. However I normally use it to explain circumstances that may not happen concurrently, but happen it such quick succession that I feel “as” is needed. Examples!

    EG 1: “Deacon’s hand fell to his hip, a single swift action breaking apart the snap (as) he drew his pistol.”

    EG2: “Deacon’s hand fell to his hip, a single swift action breaking open the snap, (and) allowing him to draw his pistol.”

    Both convey the same set of actions, and in some cases the first might seem to imply the drawing of the pistol is what is releasing the clasp(The depends on the nature of the holster, but that is not knowledge I assume the reader shares with me.). However what I am really trying to imply is that even though both events are separate actions, they are indistinguishable from one another.

    In much the same way I would probably explain that when using my bow, I draw an arrow from my side as I pull it back to my cheek. Two event categorized by a single fluid action.

    All that being said, I have encountered several uses of “as” that make my brain scream at me, and I like the examples you listed!

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