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!
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