How did as change semantically and ramify into all the meanings beneath? What underlying ideas or metaphors link them? Beneath, I chose only the broadest meanings from ODO, to see the "overall view". But for an even larger "overall view", I thank you even more if anyone can include and explain the numerous other meanings only on OED.

as = |adverb| 1. Used in comparisons to refer to the extent or degree of something

|conjunction| 1. Used to indicate that something happens during the time when something else is taking place:

  1. Used to indicate by comparison the way that something happens or is done:

  2. Because; since:

  3. Even though:

|preposition| 1. Used to refer to the function or character that someone or something has:

  1. During the time of being (the thing specified)

as (adv.) : c. 1200, worn-down form of Old English alswa "quite so" (see also) [...]

Etymonline is too curt. OED refers to linguistics and archaic Anglic languages, which I don't know.

  • See also quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/m/mec/med-idx?type=id&id=MED2398
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 12:57
  • Hey! LePress! It's cool to finally know your real name. I really enjoy getting to know SE people I interact with a lot. But why a new account?
    – Dan Bron
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  • @DanBron Look up muer in a French dictionary. Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 1:21
  • @StoneyB Haha! He shed his skin! Cute. Still don't get why, though.
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2 Answers 2


The problem is with your assumption that the senses listed in the OED are unrelated. This is often the cases when one reads dictionary definitions but in fact, it's not very difficult to see the connections.

The original meaning seemed to be one of affirmative manner (so) and it is easy to see how it could acquire a temporal meaning since manner describes events. Temporal meanings often translate into causality (e.g. since) and it is also easy to see the connection of manner or causality and similarity. So you can see that the semantic field of 'as' is actually quite tight and it is not difficult to see a connection between sentences such as:

  • She's as tall as Joan. (similarity)
  • As Marie would say, I don't like this. (comparison)
  • He ran as if his life depended on it. (manner)
  • They came as the phone started ringing. (temporality)
  • We couldn't come as the trains were late.(causality)

If you look at COHA, you'll see most of these uses attested in the 1810s. I couldn't find any of the causal uses but that's not surprising given the types of genres represented.

  • 1
    I'm sorry, but can you please explain explicitly how "it's not very difficult to see the connections" ? English isn't my first language. Thus I don't see anything - that you say - "is easy to see". Thank you. Please explain this in your answer.
    – user10165
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 17:56
  • Maybe it's only easy to see if you've seen enough examples so it would take too long to 'explain'. But for instance, the link between temporal meanings and causal meanings is straightforward - if something happens at the same time as something else, it can be the cause of it. Equally, if something is similar to something else it can be the cause of it. This sort of reasoning does not happen just in language but also in magic or even common sense judgments people make. Just look at some similar particles in your own languages you're almost certain to see similar patterns. Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 18:02
  • 1
    Thanks. Are there any books that can explain explicitly all this?
    – user10165
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 18:10
  • There are many books that perform similar analyses in depth. For instance, George Lakoff in Women, Fire and Dangerous Things does a complete breakdown of the English over (appendix 2) that illustrates the process quite nicely. Any book on language change will also trace similar processes. I always found Jean Aitchinson's to be quite good starters for non-specialists. Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 18:13
  • What's the title of the Jean Aitchinson book? And can you please move your comments into your answer? Only if you have more time, can you please explain explicitly more behind what you just wrote as "it is not difficult to see" or "it is easy to see"?
    – user10165
    Commented Jul 30, 2015 at 13:26

My assumption is that English "as" has different sources and one source might be Latin talis - qualis ( of such a kind - of which kind) and there seems to be a connection to German als (when). In some uses, e.g. as yet, there seems to be a connection to German bis (until), and in some English dialects "as" is used for "that" + clause, which might somehow connected with German dass + clause.

"as" as a conjunction can introduce a temporal, causal or comparative clause. My assumption is that these diverging uses developed by ellipsis such as

  • The time was of this kind (Latin talis)

  • The cause was of this kind

  • The similarity was of this kind.

All this can only give an idea of how the function word as could develop so many divergent uses. It would be very hard to prove such things in detail.

Added: "as" is also in Low German. It is used as English as (when) and for comparison, just as English "as" in "as a friend".

  • 1
    It may be relatively common for words meaning "as" to have a diverse range of meanings that are not (easily) logically deducible from one another. For example, German als can mean both "as" and "than", and Slovene kot and kakor can mean "as", "like" or "than".
    – user8017
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 9:28
  • Russian uses the word "tak kak" in the meaning "because" and literally means "that as". So perhaps English "as"/German "als" is some sort of a contraction from a bigger phrase, where "as" was only a part.
    – carsten
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 20:31
  • I downvoted because I'm certain that "as" is not derived from Latin "talis" or "qualis." Commented Oct 1, 2015 at 18:33

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