Usage and Grammar

Q. A few of my colleagues in the office seem to be making no distinction between “as well as” and “and.” I find the dictionary definition (“and in addition”) less than clear—although notably the examples pair only two items. Surely you would not provide a list including items “one, two, three, as well as four”?

A. Sometimes there is a distinction. “As well as” can act as a conjunction meaning “and in addition” (or simply “and”): He was handsome as well as clueless. But it can also be a preposition meaning “besides” or “in addition to,” in which case it’s not an exact substitute for “and.” That’s why we write, “He was handsome and funny as well as clueless” rather than “He was handsome, funny, as well as clueless.”