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Until some seconds ago when I was looking through one of the grammar section is test review book, I had long believed that they were (most of the time, but you know English always has those nicketypicketies that "no one" cares about) interchangeable.

Here is a example, where only "and" seems appropriate, according my book;

Because of her command of pathos, tragedy, and humor, George Eliotis considered to be a great English novelist.

This is the explanation it gives as to why "as well as" in place of "and" will be inappropriate:

The phrase as well as improperly connects the third item in a series humor to two earlier items...

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"As well as" has a lower precedence or associativity than "and".

So if you think of it in arithmetic terms, "x and y, as well as z" means "(x and y) and z", where the brackets have a similar function to the one they have in arithmetic.

This explains why "as well as" isn't usually used in lists (as noted in the other answers). The list items normally have equal precedence or associativity so separating the last item out with "as well as" is unnecessary.

Also, it explains why "as well as" isn't normal used to join two words or short phrases where "and" will do, because the meaning isn't clarified by changing the associativity of just two things.

Finally, it explains why you'll often see "as well as" to join an item after a long and complex noun phrase (especially one which itself contains the words "and" or "or"), because this makes it clear that all of the elements in the first complicated noun phrase are associated together before coming to the conjoined item introduced by "as well as".

  • What do mean "changing the associativity of two things"? Why is it limited to two things? – most venerable sir Jul 4 '15 at 13:44
  • My guess is that you meant "as well as" will make one more or less important than the other or make them look irrelevant? – most venerable sir Jul 4 '15 at 13:45
  • @Doeser, I'm using the word associativity by analogy with mathematics, hence my analogy with plus signs and brackets. It doesn't have any logical relevance to a list of just two simple items, which is why I why my analogy had three elements. Associativity or precedence doesn't relate directly to being "less important". Instead it relates to how closely or remotely things are coordinated together. As I was drawing on an analogy with mathematics, which is a different discipline from the study of English, I recommend you to research this and it you'll find it'll make more sense. – Karasinsky Jul 5 '15 at 2:02
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As well as should not be used in lists: E.g. I like baseball, tennis, and golf. Saying "as well as golf" would be incorrect.

As well as is often used this way: "x, y, and z, as well as w." In other words, it indicates that a final item will be added to the end of a list that already has an and in it.

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    Yes. I think this construction works best when w is a different type of thing than x,y and z, or when it is a long phrase. :" ...dogs, cats, and birds, as well as more exotic pets such as snakes and other reptiles." – Brian Hitchcock Jul 4 '15 at 2:27
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"And" and "or" when they connect things in a list of more than two items can occur explicitly (1) before each item except the the first ("oil, and greens, and garlic, and pepper"), or (2) before only the last item ("oil, greens, garlic, and pepper").

"As well as" does not seem to obey the same rule: "oil, as well as greens, as well as garlic, as well as pepper" seems okay (though wordy), but corresponding to pattern (2), we'd have *"oil, greens, garlic, as well as pepper". Doesn't sound right.

However, using pattern (1) with "and", but putting "as well as" in place of the last "and" seems to work: "oil, and greens, and garlic, as well as pepper".

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