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)


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 ..."


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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