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In my university publications, I notice that many enumerations use "as well" [1] instead of "and" [2]. Is this just to make the text look more sophisticated or is there a real semantic difference? When should I use one or the other?

[1] "The algorithm can process text as well as binary files."

[2] "The algorithm can process text and binary files."

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+1 Good question! –  Kris Jul 11 at 10:49

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

As well has a different meaning from and.

As well is used mostly in spoken English. In written English, people usually prefer to use also:

Parents are also welcome.

And apart from that, as well as is also slightly different from as well:

as well as something/somebody: in addition to something or someone else

Your final sentence won't turn into a false meaning if you replace as well as with and; however that sentence wants to imply that "not only this algorithm is capable of processing text, but also it can process binary files, [too]."

Reference from Subscription-Only LDOCE

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Thanks! Does that mean it is frowned upon to use it in writing or is it just not often done and not problematic for me to do? –  kirdie Jul 11 at 11:57
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I think the latter is correct. I'm checking a few other dictionaries and websites, and none are explicitly mentioning not using it in written form. Also I've seen it a great deal in written articles, so I don't think there's anything wrong with using it in written English, especially in a text where you already have several **also**s in sentences. –  Neeku Jul 11 at 12:02

"as well" in an enumeration makes the first mentioned item more important than the second, whereas "and" normally does not.

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Concur. "As well as" or "also" imply that the following statement is secondary, of lesser importance. "And" gives them equal weight. –  DrRandy Jul 11 at 12:17
    
Yes, I think this is an important piece missing from the other answer. I might say "emphasize" rather than "more important", to separate that the speaker/writer may be drawing attention to the first item without ranking them. –  Mike M Jul 11 at 14:02
    
I wouldn't agree with importance, but more of what has been discussed and what will be discussed. In my use, I might have already talked about processing text files, then say the "as well as" statement, then proceed to talk about processing binary files. –  fredsbend Jul 11 at 18:39

I agree with the other answers, but I believe that there should have been more focus on the in addition to alternative.  And I agree that “A as well as B” emphasizes A.  It seems to me that this would apply to situations where the audience would expect the statement to be true about B, but might be surprised to hear it about A.  For example,

The shareholders’ meeting will be attended by men and women.
The shareholders’ meeting will be attended by children as well as adults.

So, in your example, I’d think

The algorithm can process binary files as well as text files.

might actually be more appropriate.

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The use of and can sometimes mean (specifically with regard to algorithms and the like) that both options can/must be true at the same time. If your algorithm cannot process both text files and binary files simultaneously then the use of and might not be exactly correct in all possible interpretations.

By using as well as or in addition to the writer is more clearly stating that these are two separate options that can be achieved independently to one another.

Perhaps an even clearer version would be:

The algorithm is capable of processing either text or binary files.

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In the specific case you mentioned, when discussing performance, it's possible that "as well" could mean "just as well", as in "just as quickly" or "with equal functionality". If the algorithm can process binary files very effectively, and its ability to process text files was previously either minor or nonexistent but it can now process text files effectively, then an author could say "it can process text as well as binary files" to mean that the algorithm is equally capable of processing both.

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