as well as …
“As well as” can be expected
How often do you see a sentence with a series of items separated by commas, and “as well as” preceding the last item? Happens all the time. Here’s an example from the Detroit Free Press: “Obviously, it’s tougher to get a job, overcome health issues and pay medical bills, as well as difficult to recover from an economic setback in retirement than when one is younger.”
Huh? Not only is that an atrociously constructed sentence, which you may have to read several times to understand, but its inclusion of “as well as” is inappropriate.
Let’s try a rewrite: “Obviously, it’s tougher for a retired person than for a younger one to get a job, overcome health issues, pay medical bills, and recover from an economic setback.” We did two things here: made the sentence clearer, and substituted “and” for “as well as.” The word “and” means exactly the same as the phrase “as well as,” and is only one word instead of three. Good writers, as the late James Kilpatrick used to say in his syndicated column The Writer’s Art, do not throw words around carelessly, but rather, choose them deliberately. Is there any reason whatsoever for writing or saying “as well as” when you mean “and,” nothing more and nothing less?
“And” another thing
Here’s another example: “Miami International Airport will have a new Tri-Rail station at the airport later this year as part of a new $2 billion transportation hub that will have tracks for Tri-Rail, Amtrak, intercity and future high-speed rail service, as well as terminals for buses, rental cars and taxis.” In this instance, “as well as” has a specific purpose. Rail-service tracks connecting with an airport are a new, or at least unusual, phenomenon, but bus, rental-car and taxi terminals are typical at airports. Preceding those terminals with “as well as” indicates that it is understood the terminals will be included in the new hub; it’s common knowledge, and the writer is merely noting the fact. “As well as” is used here in a sense beyond the meaning of “and.” The only problem with this sentence is that “and” is needed to show that both “intercity” and “future high-speed” describe “rail service.”
Of lesser importance
“As well as” has a specific purpose. It’s supposed to show the item following it is of less importance, or in a different category, than the items preceding it. Another example: “Mary wanted to make an apple pie, so she went to the store to buy flour, sugar, butter and cream, as well as apples.” It’s abundantly obvious that you need apples for apple pie. But a culinary naïf might not know about some or all of the other ingredients. So the writer lists those ingredients, then acknowledges that, of course, Mary will need apples, too. Just in case the reader doesn’t possess common sense.
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