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I am having a hard time differentiating "as" and "to be" when they are used with some verbs. What is the difference between them? I have posted some examples to understand the issue better:

1- They soon reveal themselves to be a persistent threat to his life. (Original one) (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/dec/21/y-the-last-man-by-brian-k-vaughan-and-pia-guerra-a-dystopia-built-by-women)

2- They soon reveal themselves as a persistent threat to his life.

3- We know her to be an honest person. (She is an honest person.)

4- We know her as an honest person.

5- Some women see him to be the last chance for future generations of humanity; others see him as the last memory of the patriarchy.

6- Some women see him as the last chance for future generations of humanity; others see him as the last memory of the patriarchy. (Original one)

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The usages are very similar and typically can be used interchangeably, at leas in the three instances you have given.

However there is a slight difference.

"To be" puts the focus on actions, while "as" puts the focus on inherent identity.


Put into practice for 1-2:

#1 implies (at least to me) that that it is the people's actions that are understood as causing the persistent threat to his life.

#2 implies that the people are identifying with the label of "persistent threat to his life".

In this case, because it is indeed the people's actions that are causing the "threat", #1 seems like the superior choice.


#3: implies that "through her actions (that we have observed), we have know she is honest"

#4: implies that you would label this person as an "honest person", that may be from what other people have told you/what you have read. This could also have an interpretation that "we" have only seen the "honest side" of her personality as opposed to other "not-honest sides".

In this case both work and the context can tell you which to choose.


Same deal here, #6 makes the most sense because you are connecting "him" with the label "last chance for ..."

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In your examples, there's effectively no difference, but there can be.

If someone is known as a painter, then painting is what they're famous for; painting is the main thing that comes to most people's minds when they think of that person. On the other hand, if someone is known to be a painter, then that fact is confirmed to be true, but it may be obscure knowledge. It's the difference between being a famous artist, and being a famous politician who occasionally paints on the side.

"Seen as/seen to be" can be distinguished in the same way. For a different example, if Katie is seen as a liar, then most people believe her to be a liar (regardless of whether or not it's true). If Katie is seen to be a liar, then this must be in reference to a specific instance in which she was caught lying.

I can't think of any cases where "reveal" would present a clear distinction, but the same theory underlies it.

  • I couldn't understand this example you gave: Being a famous artist (I suppose it is "known as an artist) , being a famous politician who occasionally paints ("Known to be an artist") ? – Talha Özden Jun 21 at 5:59
  • Is it correct to call someone "painter" if he/she only paints as a hobby? (I mean she/he is not a proffessional artist.) – Talha Özden Jun 21 at 8:04
  • @TalhaÖzden Fair, it might not have been the most natural-sounding example. I wouldn't say it's wrong by default though. Your understanding of the example is correct. – the-baby-is-you Jun 21 at 15:00

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