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How to Use “as it were” in a Sentence

How to Use “as it were” in a Sentence

The wealthy feed on the work of the poor.

When I graduate college, the world will be my oyster.

Art and science are branches of the same tree.

What do all these strange sentences have in common? They could all be made clearer by the phrase “as it were.”

 

What is the meaning of ‘as it were’?

The phrase “as it were” is a parenthetical phrase used to point out that another part of the sentence is either not quite accurate or a metaphor. You can think of it as having the same meaning of “in other words,” “in a manner of speaking” or, more literally, “but that’s just a close approximation of what I really mean.”

 

What part of speech is “as it were”?

The phrase “as it were” is most commonly used as a parenthetical phrase, meaning that it is used as an aside to draw attention to something in the sentence.

It might seem at first glance that “were” should be “was,” since the “it” that precedes it is singular.

However, this is a special use of the word “were” as a conditional word, in what linguists call an “unreal conditional” sentence.

What that means is that the sentence needs to be in the subjunctive mood, a grammatical mode which requires the use of “were” to imply that the sentence is hypothetical or otherwise untrue.

Fortunately, there’s no need to memorize all the linguistic terms. Simply remember that if a sentence isn’t true, you should use “were.”

This leave us with the phrase “as it were.”

 

“As it were” in more detail

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the phrase “as it were” means that a statement or word is not completely accurate.

Wiktionary offers an additional meaning, suggesting that this phrase can also be used to point out that something is a metaphor or other type of figurative image.

No matter which meaning is true in the specific sentence you’re looking at, the long and the short of it is that “as it were” is used as to let the reader or listener know that other things in the sentence should be taken with a grain of salt.

If that’s still not helpful in clearing up the meaning of this phrase, you can swap it out for a few other phrases that are essentially the same: “in other words,” “so to speak,” “if you will” and “in a manner of speaking” all work.

In some sense, “as it were” is even similar to the phrase no pun intended.

If you want a literal meaning, the phrase says something like “but the expression I just used is a metaphor and that didn’t really happen” or “but this is just an approximation of what actually happened and not accurate.”

Because those are quite a mouthful, it’s easy to see why “as it were” is the preferred way to say these things.

Examples

“She cooked up a storm, as it were, in the kitchen.”

“The explanation of intercranial pressure took him by such surprise it made his mind explode, as it were.”

These two sentences use “as it were” to point to metaphors. The woman in the first sentence is not actually cooking a storm, and the man in the second did not actually have his head explode.

“I listened to music so loud that my ears rang, as it were, for hours afterward.”

This is closer to the usage suggested by the Oxford English Dictionary, where “as it were” points out that “my ears rang” is a commonly used way to refer to tinnitus, but maybe not the best way to explain the “ringing” sensation in the ears.

In both cases, “as it were” provides a useful signpost to the reader about the content of the sentences. It’s important to note that the phrase could be removed, as well, and each sentence would still make grammatical sense.

"As it were" in a Sentence

 

Where does “as it were” go in a sentence?

Because “as it were” is a parenthetical phrase, it needs to be set apart from the remainder of the sentence with one or more commas.

How many commas depends on where in the sentence the phrase appears.

If “as it were” appears at the end of a sentence, simply place a comma before “as” and put the period after “were.” If

Although “as it were” can sometimes be used as a stand-alone sentence in written dialogue or casual conversation, it doesn’t show up at the start of a longer sentence, so we don’t need to worry about where the comma goes in that case.

Examples

“She played a mean saxophone, as it were.”

“She played, as it were, a mean saxophone.”

These two sentences say the same thing, but place “as it were” in different parts of the sentence.

In the first example, “as it were” falls at the end of the sentence, so a single comma is used to separate it. In the second, because “as it were” is in the middle of the sentence, it must be set off by a comma at either side.