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In the sentence:

My car as well as my lap top were stolen last night.

What part of speech are the words in the phrase as well as?

I believe the first as is the preposition of the phrase, that well is an adverb, and that the last as is again a preposition. But I am not sure.

Or do the three words function together as a syntactic element? If so, what would that be called?

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'were' should be replaced by 'was' . –  Sudhir Dec 7 '12 at 17:23
    
Not according to retired Professor of Linguistics John Lawler below. –  Edwin Ashworth Dec 7 '12 at 17:37
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2 Answers

In the example you have provided, as well as functions as a coordinating conjunction replacing and. See:

  • They stole my car as well as my laptop.

  • They stole my car and my laptop.

The entire phrase is a synonym for and.

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Yes. And you can show that it's a coordinating conjunction because it produces a constituent that can govern plural verb agreement: My car as well as my laptop were stolen. In addition to works the same way; but subordinating conjunctions like after don't have that property: *My car, after my laptop, were stolen. –  John Lawler Dec 6 '12 at 21:48
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@JohnLawler: I say "Mac and cheese is my favorite" because it sounds right, but is it? I was comparing it to "PB&J is my favorite", but that's different because PB&J refers to the entire sandwhich, which is singular. –  tylerharms Dec 7 '12 at 9:01
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I defy you to separate the cheese from the mac more easily than the pb from the j. Anyway, it isn't about the meaning -- this is a grammatical fact: mac and cheese is a fixed phrase, just like pb&j. Trust your native intuition: if it sounds right to a native speaker, it is right, for their idiolect. For other opinions and other contexts, consult your favorite guru, maven, or mullah. –  John Lawler Dec 7 '12 at 15:12
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As well as is a substitute for and, so the verb were is correct. If as well as was, actually, a non-essential phrase (a parenthetical element that doesn't alter the meaning of the independent clause), and set off in commas, then the singular conjugation was would be the correct verb. As it is, the synonym for and (coordinating conjunction) takes the plural conjugation.

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I should have said that, since as well as is a substitute for and, a coordinating conjunction, the subject is compound, and the verb were is correct for that compound subject. –  mattie May 28 '13 at 16:46
    
Welcome to E.SE. You can edit your own answer; but is there anything original here which has not appeared in the older answer with its comments? (And when you want to use individual words/phrases like as well as and and and were, use italics.) –  Andrew Leach May 28 '13 at 16:49
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