AS vs. WHEN: Tips for Better Writing
By Kathy Ide
As (when used as a conjunction, as in “As this happened, that happened”) implies that the second thing occurred while (within the same time frame as, during the time in which) the first thing was in the process of happening.
When implies that the second thing happened at the same moment in time that the first thing happened (a specific time being the essential element).
"As the garage door came down (while it was in the process of coming down), the cat scurried under it."
"When the garage door came down (at the moment it touched the concrete), it hit the cat."
“As she bid him farewell, a tear fell down her cheek.” (During the time it took for the tear to fall, she was in the process of bidding him farewell. Both took about the same amount of time.)
“When she bid him farewell, a tear blurred her vision.” (At the moment in time when she told him good-bye, a tear appeared.)
“When the dance ended, she thought, I’ll never see him again.” (At the moment in time when the dance ended, that thought came to her mind. The two things happened at approximately the same point in time.)
The Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions by Harry Shaw says that as is “one of the most useful and most overworked words in the language. … As a conjunction, however, as is usually weaker (less effective) than since, because, and when, each of which is more exact.”
The Wordwatcher’s Guide to Good Grammar and Word Usage (by Morton S. Freeman) says that as (when used as a conjunction) is often “fuzzy” because it is ambiguous. “It may be conveying the idea of time (which needs when) or of cause (which needs because).”
Their example: “As the time grew short, the people became fidgety” could mean either “When the time grew short, the people became fidgety” or “Because the time grew short, the people became fidgety.” They recommend using when or because instead of as to avoid ambiguity or possible misreading.
Kathy Ide is a published author/ghostwriter, editor/mentor, and writers’ conference speaker. Her latest book is Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors. To order, visit www.secretsofbestsellingauthors.com. Kathy is the founder and coordinator of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network (www.TheChristianPEN.com) and the Christian Editor Connection (www.ChristianEditor.com). To find out more, visit www.KathyIde.com.
Sounds like a book all writers need. Thanks, Kathy, for visiting Writing with God's Hope blog today. I think I understand the as vs. when dilemma. Anyone else have a problem with that besides me?