As If! – Overuse and Misuse of the Word 'as'

Ah, the catchphrase from the movie Clueless, “As if!”

Today I want to talk about the word ‘as’ and how it is weakening your writing, particularly your fiction writing.

“As” is one of the most frequently overused and misused words I edit when I’m editing fiction. So let’s start with this list of ‘shouldn’ts’…

‘As’ shouldn’t be used to mean ‘because’.

‘As’ shouldn’t be used to mean ‘while’.

‘As’ shouldn’t be used to mean ‘when’.

‘As’ shouldn’t be used to mean ‘at the same time’ or ‘at the same time as’.

Here’s the thing, it’s okay to use the word ‘as’ to show that a person is doing something at the same time they are doing something else, as long as it’s done properly and it’s not overused. That’s the biggest issues is the overuse of ‘as’ in order to draw the word pictures or the ‘movie’ in the reader’s mind. It’s just weak writing to use it too frequently.

“As she was walking to the store, she whistled.”

Can be rewritten:

“While she was walking to the store, she whistled.”

And this is actually stronger than ‘as’.

I recently edited a novel that had the following paragraph in it.

“As he was talking to her on the phone, he wrote on the sketch pad as she talked.”

Okay, ‘as’ is most frequently used as a comparison – if he wrote on the sketchpad ‘as she talked’, that technically means he wrote the way she talked (the same as). What the writer really meant was that he wrote it WHILE she talked.

When I’ve been doing the critiques on the short story contest on the forum, this is the single most overused word and the most wrongly used word coming up in all the stories.

Again, I’m not saying don’t use it, but rather, don’t overuse it and if there’s another word (because, while, when, etc) that makes it stronger and better, use that instead

Now, the next ‘as’ problem is ‘as if’. If is a comparative word, the same as ‘as’ is a comparative word – ‘as if’ is rather redundant. The properly phrasing is almost always ‘as though’.

WRONG: “He walked through the door as if he didn’t have a care in the world.”

RIGHT: “He walked through the door as though he didn’t have a care in the world.”

As always, keep in mind that unless I tell you something is a hard and fast rule, there is always some leeway in fiction writing where the writer can make an impact or use a particular phrasing for emphasis or literary license… however, know that what I say here in this blog is how to make your writing stronger and draw better word pictures.

Remember, you have to KNOW the grammar and editing rule before you are allowed to intentionally break them for impact.

Keep writing!

Love and stuff,