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Which phrase is more formal — "so long as" or "as long as"?

Example:

  • So long as Google Voice allows free long distance in North America, I will use it.
  • As long as Google Voice allows free long distance in North America, I will use it.

I'm leaning toward 'as long as' but I have no justification.

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I seem to recall reading, years ago, in a very old edition of Word Power Made Easy, Norman Lewis prescribing that so long as is the high fallutin' distinguished usage, and as long as is junk used by phillistines. :) –  Kaz Apr 12 '13 at 20:49

3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I don't know that the distinction between these two is formality. I think that "so long as" indicates a logical predication, and "as long as" indicates a specific time interval. Take your two examples.

  • So long as Google Voice allows free long distance in North America, I will use it.

I think this could be paraphrased as

  • My use of Google Voice is conditional upon free long distance calls in North America.

Your second example was

  • As long as Google Voice allows free long distance in North America, I will use it.

This could be paraphrased as

  • For the duration of time that Google Voice allows free long distance in North America, I will be using it.

Thinking about it, I think that both "so long as" and "as long as" are used for the conditional reading, but only "as long as" can be used for the duration reading.

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4  
I've always thought of "so long as" as being a little more casual, but I'm not sure why. –  mmyers Aug 26 '10 at 19:27
    
Well, I'm +1 here, but I think that "so long as" can be used for the duration reading, so long as you assume that there is the word "For" implied at the beginning. –  John Gietzen Aug 27 '10 at 14:53

Both the phrases mean during the whole time that.

The Corpus of Contemporary American English reports that the most used phrase is as long as.
as long as is used more in magazines and newspapers than in academic texts; so long as is used more in academic texts than magazines and newspapers.

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In this case, you should use "as long as," since you are talking about a duration of time. More here:

http://snarkygrammarguide.blogspot.com/search/label/as%20long%20as%20vs.%20so%20long%20as

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Oh come on, surely you can excerpt enough from that link for this to be a useful answer (especially when it seems to be your own blog!) –  ShreevatsaR Aug 27 '10 at 8:09
    
Your very own blog suggests that he can use either phrase. It is not clear whether he is measuring a duration of time ("I'll use it for this long"), or giving a condition ("I'll use it if it is available"). Personally, I interpret it as a condition. To interpret it as a duration of time implies that he'll use it non-stop for that long. Still, when I visited your blog, I found myself agreeing with you. Fortunately, we have no police from whom we must fear English grammar enforcement; but I like to discover and know the rules, and I think this one is sticky, so I appreciate your explanation. –  user26220 Sep 18 '12 at 17:11

protected by RegDwigнt Sep 18 '12 at 18:28

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