Why can ‘X as well as Y’ be written as ‘as well X as Y’?

Prof. Brooks Landon, U. Iowa, Ph.D., U. Texas at Austin, Building Great Sentences: How to Write the Kinds of Sentences You Love to Read (Great Courses), 2013, p 193:

        More on Dr. Johnson shortly, but it’s useful to note the extremes to which Lyly took parallelism. And a little Lyly goes a long way. Here’s a brief excerpt from his dedication of Euphues to his patron, Sir William West. Lyly is making the case for the essential honesty of his depiction of the youth Euphues:

Whereby I gather that in all perfect works as well the fault as the face is to be shown. The fairest leopard is set down with his spots, the sweetest rose with his prickles, the finest velvet with his brack. Seeing then that in every counterfeit as well the blemish as the beauty is coloured I hope I shall not incur the displeasure of the wise in that in the discourse of Euphues I have as well touched the vanities of his love as the virtue of his life.

        So patterned and so mannered, paralleled and balanced was the prose in Lyly’s Euphues that it has given us the rhetorical term euphuism. Terming euphuism “the rhetorical prose style par excellence,” Richard Lanham explains in his Handlist of Rhetorical Terms that it “emphasizes the figures of words that create balance, and makes frequent use of antithesis, paradox, repetitive patterns with single words, sound-plays of various sorts, amplification of every kind, sententiae and especially the ‘unnatural natural history’ or simile from traditional natural history.” Somewhat discouragingly, Lanham adds: “Lyly’s style has been studied largely to be deplored.”

I’m assuming that “as well X as Y” = “X as well as Y”. The latter is a constituent and can’t be decomposed.

  1. But why does English permit “X as well as” allowed to be decomposed into “As well” + X + “As”?

  2. Can anyone explain why “as well X as Y” is obviously less readable, and is unnecessarily burdensome? I think that a reader processes X first as the noun, not “as well”.


The construction as well x as y is not merely x as well as y turned on its head. Emphasizing the first element over the second, it cues the reader to wait for the second term of the comparison, thus producing a different prosodic or rhetorical effect than the word order with which modern speakers are more familiar.

While x as well as y occurs in any register but the most informal, as well x as y appears only in the highest registers, especially formal speeches and legal or legislative language. Though rather rare after ca. 1850, it occurs eight times in the King James Bible:

And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the LORD, shall be put to death. — KJV Lev 25.26

One might expect a foreigner to be exempt from punishment, but even the stranger is subject to it.

And they cast lots, as well the small as the great, according to the house of their fathers, for every gate. — 1Chr 16.13

Even the small cast lots.

It is not surprising, then, to find the same structure in a Renaissance author such as John Lyly. By itself, the construction can only be adduced as an indicator of register, not of the mannered style for which he is noted. In the first half of the 19th c., it appears in a variety of formal contexts:

In either view of the subject, New York is as well the common property and concern of the union as of its own particular citizens. — Memorial of the inhabitants of the city of New York. : March 21, 1806, Washington DC, 1806.

… but the persons to whom any question of compensation shall be referred shall take into consideration as well the advantages as the disadvantages which may result to the parties claiming compensation from the opening of such road. — Council Paper, Objects of a Bill to provide for the making and repairing of Parish Roads in the Colony of New South Wales, Australasian Chronicle (Sydney), 20 Jun. 1840.

A passage from a speech urging the members of the New York Agricultural Society to hold an annual cattle show uses both x as well as y and as well x as y:

We must, therefore, have an Annual Fair and Cattle Show, if we mean to continue as a society, or to exercise any salutary influence over the public. Here, as well as elsewhere, the happiest results will follow, when we shall have so augmented the amount as well as in creased the number of our premiums, that we shall stimulate by this influence as well the lone widow that sits by her solitary spinning wheel, as the capitalist whose wealth puts in motion a thousand wheels ; as well the humble laborer who owns not even the implements of his toil, as the rich farmer that rejoices in his broad acres ; in a word, every department of rural or of household industry. — Joel B. Nott, President’s Address, Transactions of the New York State Agricultural Society, 1841, Albany (NY), 1842.

Now the rather pompous second sentence — even by 19th c. standards — could certainly be called euphuistic, but more for the double parallels lone widow-capitalist and humble laborer-rich farmer, not because Nott uses as well before the first element of each pair.

And a history of England:

But, in truth and at the bottom, the parties, as well the principals as those who list under them, are still as much separated in interest and inclination as ever. This is the certain state of the case at present. — George Lillie Craik, The Pictorial History of England, 1849.

… the Puritans held the Scriptures to be as well a standard of discipline as of doctrine. — ibid.

If you read these examples aloud, they will begin to sound less strange to you and you can begin to understand their effect on 19th c. audiences.

Source : Link , Question Author : NNOX Apps , Answer Author : KarlG

Leave a Comment