I don’t understand whenever I read “as it were”. Could anyone please explain it to me in a plain way along with some examples of how to use it? My English mightn't be as good as yours.

  • Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/63584/… – LawrenceC Jun 5 '15 at 20:26
  • I read that before. I need more and plain explanation. – PMX128 Jun 5 '15 at 20:34
  • 1
    It's just a figure of speech, as it were. I don't think there's any rules as to how to use it. It's probably similar to the French "n'est-ce pas" and other English expression such as "isn't it" and "don't you think", but whereas you'd add those to a question, you'd add 'as it were' to a statement of fact. – Steve Ives Jun 5 '15 at 21:13
  • 1
    @Steve It has a great many uses, but I disagree that it is appropriate after just any statement of fact. – Tyler James Young Jun 5 '15 at 21:33

Let's say there is a problem at work. I might ask you to "put out the fire."

Please understand, there is no literal fire – that is, there are no flames. Instead, sometimes we talk about "putting out fires" in the workplace. It's figurative speech that's meant to evoke images of stamping out multiple fires. Saying, "Sara helped me put out this fire," is another way of saying, "Sarah helped me solve this unexpected crisis." This idiom is defined at OSD as:

put out fires (verb) to deal with urgent problems (usually at work)

Later in the week, I might ask you, "Did you get that report done?" You might answer:

"No, I was too busy putting out fires, as it were."

What does the "as it were" mean?

It tells the listener that you were using figurative speech – in this case, that you weren't putting out literal fires. Those papers in the recycle bin did not catch fire. You never had to pull a pin out of the fire extinguisher. The fire department was never called, and no smoke detectors ever went off. A much longer way to say the same thing would be:

"No, I was too busy putting out fires. (However, I'm not referring to literal fires, where something was burning; instead, I'm using the word 'fire' in its metaphorical sense.) What I really mean is this: I was too busy dealing with urgent problems to get the report finished."

If it only tells the listener that a metaphor is being used, do I really need to say it?

No, not at all. It's purely optional. You could just say:

"No, I was too busy putting out fires."

The phrase might be helpful if there's a chance that the person you are speaking with might not know you are speaking figuratively. For example, if we work in a fire department, it might be better to say:

"No, I was too busy putting out fires, as it were."

That might make it clear that I was referring to certain crises (like the unannounced safety inspection on Tuesday, and the flat tire on Truck #3 on Wednesday), not literal fires in the community.

  • Thank you.I didn't think that someone would explain it that much to me. If I didn't know nothing about English, I would have understood by your clear explanation. – PMX128 Jun 6 '15 at 10:19

“As it were” can be a hedge and let the speaker say “not really like how I just said, but pretty much.”

It is an idiom itself, and it can also indicate that a nearby phrase is an idiom. The purposes of this are widely varied, but include:

  • To clarify that a metaphorical meaning is meant when a literal meaning could be taken:

    • That stereo fell off the back of the truck, as it were.
      • The stereo has been stolen, likely by an employee or with the assistance of an employee.
    • When it comes to Girl Scout cookies, I’m a bit of a black hole as it were.
      • In an area around the speaker, cookies are pulled in and never escape, but they are not in reality a region of space with gravity so intense no matter or light can escape.
  • To indicate a particularly uncommon euphemism or other idiom:

    • Walking through the library, he had the misfortune to step on a duck as it were.
      • The person speaking doesn’t want to refer to flatulence directly and/or wishes to add delayed realization to the humor of the situation by obscuring the reality in an easily solved riddle.
  • To coin a brand-new phrase when the meaning can be guessed from context:
    • After that gaffe with the press, he’s in a bit of a briny bath as it were.
      • Someone has misspoken and now experiences discomfort similar to submersion in the sea or some kind of pickling solution.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.