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Would you say that both sentences sound correct?

  1. On the whole, I think you came ON as sincere and credible, and your soft-spoken demeanor, laced with a dash of wry humor, was quite charming.

  2. On the whole, I think you came ACROSS as sincere and credible, and your soft-spoken demeanor, laced with a dash of wry humor, was quite charming.

The McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs seems to suggest that both phrasal verbs are synonyms:

a. come on as something: to appear to be something; to project one's image as something. (The senator comes on as a liberal, but we all know better. He comes on as a happy guy, but he is miserable.)

b. come across like someone or something (to someone)and come across as someone or something (to someone): to appear or seem like someone or something to other people. (You always come across like a madman to people. She comes across like the Queen of the Nile to most people who meet her.)

Your thoughts? Thanks a lot!

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    I'd say that 'come across as' is much the more common in the UK. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 29 '15 at 7:11
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    Although I agree with their definition of "comes on as"; it's a bit old-fashioned. I haven't heard it in conversation ever, nor read it in anything written after maybe 1940. – dartonw Mar 29 '15 at 7:18
  • So does the first sentence jar? – Louel Mar 29 '15 at 8:45
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Despite the noted synonymous definitions, I think the tell in these phrases is is often one of connotation. A come-on, through other uses, often connotes a sinister or self-serving action or a pretence.

"You come on as if you own the joint."

"Did you come on to my sister?"

To "come off (as if)..." is also used when appropriate (not in the second example ;-) and carries a similar connotation. On the other hand, "Came across as," while not unused in a derogatory sense, doesn't usually receive that immediate inference of a con job.

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  • So would you say that the first sentece is wrong? – Louel Mar 29 '15 at 8:44
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    No, not wrong -- just a little more gentle in its connotation. – Tightwriter Mar 29 '15 at 9:13
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    Did you mean the SECOND one comes across as more gentle? – Brian Hitchcock Mar 29 '15 at 13:49
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I agree with The McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs, the two phrases are indeed synonymous. Although I would break up your example sentences into more than one sentence, each.

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  • Thank you, Mike. I felt that breaking up the sentences would make them sound choppy. I guess you aren't a fan of compound sentences. :-) – Louel Mar 29 '15 at 6:22
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    I don't mind compound sentences, but it just seems a bit cluttered and overwhelming in this instance. Though, technically speaking, I suppose it's fine. =) – Mike Mar 29 '15 at 6:36
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I wouldn't say they are synonymous.

In my opinion, come on as implies the person was actively trying to project a particular image. Come across as simply describes how he was perceived by others, maybe without him intending to do so.

From your quoted definition:

come on as something: to appear to be something; to project one's image as something.

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