Does “As Well As” Need a Comma?

You may have already read our article on how to use commas. You know the basic comma rules. You feel your comma confidence increasing. Ah, you think to yourself, look at the fine way this author uses commas! Then, just when you think you understand the punctuation mark fully, you come across a truly fascinating bit of grammatical sorcery.
“As well” looks like a perfectly normal adverb.

She runs as well.

Then, suddenly, you add the word “as,” and it’s transformed into something different.

She runs as well as Tim.

Sometimes, as in the case above, “as well as” acts like three separate words. “As” #1 is an adverb, “well” is an adverb, and “as” #2 is a subordinate conjunction.

Then, just when you think you have things figured out, you run into “as well as” the phrasal preposition.

She ran next to Alice as well as Tim.

In this example, “as well as” forms one part of speech. You could substitute the entire phrase for a different preposition such as “beside” or “in addition to”.

Needless to say, knowing whether to use a comma with “as well as” requires some advanced grammatical jiu-jitsu. In this article, we’ll give you a few simple tricks to help you identify how the phrase is being used. By identifying the part of speech, you’ll find it a lot easier to determine whether you need a comma or not.

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Is This a Simple Comparison?

Ask yourself the question, “Is this a simple comparison?” If the answer is yes, you’ve sidestepped a lot of heartache. When you use the phase “as well as” to compare two things, you won’t need a comma. 

Let’s look at a few examples:

  • Can Becky sing as well as I do?
  • He writes as well as Uncle George. 
  • I play as well as I did ten years ago. 

Anytime you use the phrase in a simple comparison, the second “as” acts as a subordinating conjunction. Subordinating conjunctions never require commas when they appear in the middle of a sentence. That’s what makes them subordinate. Luckily, you’ll always be using “as well as” in the middle of a sentence. It would be very strange to say, “As well as I did ten years ago, I play.” So, whenever you see “as well as” used in a comparison, you know that you can leave out the commas. 

Are You Replacing “In Addition To”?

When you use “as well as” to replace “in addition to,” you’ve got a phrasal preposition on your hands. Sometimes you’ll need a comma with this part of speech and sometimes you won’t. The easiest way to figure out whether you need a comma or not is to ask yourself another series of questions. First you’ll need to identify the clause within which the phrase “as well as” appears. 

Her mother, as well as her maternal grandmother, uses Google.

In the example above, you’ll be looking at the clause “as well as her maternal grandmother” and evaluating whether that clause is essential to the sentence.

Can I Remove the Clause?

By asking yourself whether you can remove the clause without changing the meaning or structure of the sentence, you’re really asking, “Is this clause restrictive or nonrestrictive?” A restrictive clause is essential to the sentence, whereas a nonrestrictive clause acts as an aside or parenthetical. If you could easily put the clause in parenthesis, it’s likely a nonessential clause.

An example of a common nonrestrictive clause would be an appositive. An appositive comes directly after a noun and renames the word before it without changing the meaning of a sentence. 

The common dog, canis lupus familiaris, was one of the first domesticated animals.

In the example above, the appositive phrase “canis lupus familiaris” is nonrestrictive. It is not essential to the structure or meaning of the sentence. All nonrestrictive clauses must be set off at the beginning and the end by commas. 

Let’s look at the sentence with “as well as,” where the phrase is used as a preposition within a nonrestrictive clause.

Her mother, as well as her maternal grandmother, uses Google.

What happens when we remove the clause?

Her mother…uses Google.

That sentence remains grammatically viable and complete, so it’s appropriate to include “as well as her maternal grandmother” between two commas. 

Is the Clause Essential?

Now, let’s say you wanted to write that sentence differently in order to make sure that the reader understood that the grandmother was essential to the meaning of the sentence.

You might rewrite the sentence this way:

Her mother as well as her maternal grandmother use Google.

Now, in the sentence above, you’re using “as well as” as a coordinating conjunction. When you try to remove the clause with the grandmother, the sentence no longer makes sense.

Her mother… use Google.

No. That doesn’t work. With the new sentence construction, the clause must not be removed from the sentence. Since we’re dealing with a restrictive clause, commas would no longer be appropriate. Again, we’re basically substituting the phrase “as well as” for the coordinating conjunction “and” in this example.

Her mother as well as her maternal grandmother use Google.

Her mother and her maternal grandmother use Google.

To make things a bit more complicated, many grammar experts do not believe that “as well as” can ever be used as a coordinating conjunction, so they would not use it to make a compound subject. Technically, the only accepted coordinating conjunctions are FANBOYS:

F | for

A | and

N | nor

B | but

O | or

Y | yet

S | so

That said, this usage of “as well as” remains relatively common, especially in spoken English. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language explains, “We must conclude that idiomatic as well as can be construed syntactically in two ways, introducing an element that is either coordinate (as in [70i]) or subordinate (as in [ii]). In the former case, we take it to have been reanalysed as a compound coordinator.

For a speaker of English as a second language, this distinction may sound hopelessly confusing. The important thing to remember is that, because using “as well as” to create a compound subject is considered idiomatic, some people will say that it’s wrong and other people will say that it’s correct.

To be safe, you’d be much better off using the word “and” when you need a coordinating conjunction to connect two grammatical elements of equal status. Everyone agrees on that construction!

Can “As Well As” Replace “And”?

If you are using “as well as” to replace “and,” remember that there are many situations in which such a replacement would be inappropriate. For example, you might use the word “and” to connect two independent clauses and avoid a comma splice. 

She loved the water, and he preferred the shore.

To replace the word “and” with “as well as” in a situation like this one would confuse the reader. 

Similarly, you might use “and” after a semicolon, especially in a structurally complex sentence. “As well as” would not be appropriate after a semicolon in most cases.  

It’s quite common to use “and” in a list. If you use the phrase “as well as” in this context, be sure to treat it differently than “and”. If you would normally use an Oxford comma, you might create the following list:

She loves chips, cookies, donuts, and pie. 

If you wanted to use the phrase “as well as” in this list instead, you should use it to mean “in addition to.”

She loves chips, donuts, and cookies, as well as pie. 

In the first sentence, we’ve included a serial comma between “donuts” and “and”. Notice that the second example uses both “and” and “as well as,” along with a pair of commas. First, you’d include the serial comma between “donuts” and “cookies,” then you’d add another comma before the nonessential addition of pie.

A Decision for the Writer

With the phrase “as well as,” the writer has the power to emphasize or deemphasize the addition. In the example sentences with the grandmother, the writer must make a choice. Is the grandmother essential to the sentence, or is she extraneous information? Depending on how you construct the sentence, the reader will think about the grandmother very differently. 

Let’s take another look at the following sentences:

Her mother, as well as her maternal grandmother, uses Google.

Her mother as well as her maternal grandmother use Google.

Between the two choices above, most linguists would prioritize the first option. The main difference between the two sentences is the inclusion of the grandmother in the compound subject of the second sentence. Who are we talking about? Do we want to emphasize the mother, or are both the mother and the grandmother equally important?

The English language gives us a lot of options. We could treat “as well as” as a phrasal preposition, a coordinating conjunction, or as a string of words with independent functions—adverb, adverb, subordinate conjunction. 

Answer the Questions

To decide whether comma usage is appropriate, answer the following questions.

1) Is this a simple comparison?

If the answer is yes, you do not need commas. In a direct comparison, “as well as” acts as three separate words, an adverb, adverb, and subordinate conjunction.

2) Is “as well as” part of a restrictive clause? 

If the answer is yes, do not use commas. Usually, if you can substitute “as well as” with “and,” you’re dealing with a restrictive clause.

3) Is “as well as” part of a nonrestrictive clause or a parenthetical statement?

If the answer is yes, you should use commas on either side of the clause. If the phrase appears at the beginning or end of the sentence, you only need one comma to set the phrase apart. For example, if the nonrestrictive clause comes at the beginning of the sentence, the comma use should be placed at the end of the introductory phrase to separate it from the rest of the sentence.

Practice

She studies history as well as finance. 

Since you can substitute “and” for “as well as,” no comma is needed. 

As well as tuba, he also plays trombone.

Here, you need a comma after the prepositional phrase. It’s not essential to the main clause. 

The banker counts as well as he whistles.

In a simple comparison, there’s no need for a comma. The phrase is essential to the meaning of the entire sentence. 

They enjoy New York and Boston, as well as Los Angeles. 

When you use “as well as” in a list, it’s usually part of a nonessential prepositional phrase that requires the use of a comma. In this case, you only need one comma, since the phrase comes at the end of a sentence. 

Additional Resources

For related questions, it can be helpful to refer to a style guide, such as the Chicago Manual of Style, the MLA Handbook 8th Edition, or the APA Style Manual 7th Edition

For formal writing, such as a research paper or published work, try to avoid using “as well as” as a coordinating conjunction. Since “as well as” singles out one element as being of lesser or greater importance than others, it is most logical to use it as a comparison or a phrasal preposition, rather than a coordinating conjunction.

Sources:

  1. https://www.dictionary.com/e/how-do-you-use-a-comma/
  2. https://www.yourdictionary.com/phrasal-preposition
  3. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/grammar/british-grammar/as-well-as
  4. https://study.com/academy/lesson/as-well-as-meaning-comma-usage-example-sentences.html
  5. https://www.margieholdscourt.com/as-well-as/
  6. https://archive.org/stream/TheCambridgeGrammarOfTheEnglishLanguage_201810/The%20Cambridge%20Grammar%20of%20the%20English%20Language_djvu.txt