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More on the Awful “Like” Word

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  Ed Good  —  Grammar Tips
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In my last blog, I began my diatribe against the awful like word. In this edition, we’ll explore some grammar and see how the like word can serve as seven out of the eight parts of speech.

Many children develop the like habit at very young ages. If your children are in elementary school and have some grounding in grammar, you can show them how like functions in the English language.

Like as a Verb

If your children ask about the correct meaning of like, point out that it serves as a verb, all by itself. Your children can say, “I like waffles” or “I would like another serving.”

Like as a Preposition

Point out that it also serves as a preposition and in that capacity hooks nouns to sentences. Your children can say, “He runs like the wind.”

Indeed, go ahead and point out that to be can join like if they truly want to show what something or somebody was like.

Thus the commercial “I want to be like Mike” has its grammar in order.

So does “He was like a father to me.”

But virtually everyone addicted to the like word uses it to show not what something is like but what something actually is. They use it to show identity (is), not similarity (like): He’s like tall. Well, is he or isn’t he?

Like as a Noun

You can also point out that like serves as a noun, as in likes and dislikes.

Like as an Adjective

The word spans almost all parts of speech and can serve as an adjective (she mastered lacrosse, field hockey, and like sports).

Like as an Adverb

Informally, like can serve as an adverb (the tree is more like 100 than 50 feet).

Like as a Conjunction

Here we stir up a hornet’s nest. According to some sources, the word like can also act as a subordinating conjunction.

Charles Darwin wrote in 1866: “Unfortunately few have observed like you have done.” New Fowler, p. 458. (Note: Click for a list of sources used throughout Hold the Ctrl key down when you click here.)

Consider the words of Random House:

Like as a conjunction meaning “as, in the same way as” (Many shoppers study the food ads like brokers study market reports) or “as if” (It looks like it will rain) has been used for nearly 500 years and by many distinguished literary and intellectual figures. Since the mid-19th century there have been objections, often vehement, to these uses. Nevertheless, such uses are almost universal today in all but the most formal speech and writing. In extremely careful speech and in much formal writing, as, as if, and as though are more commonly used than like: The commanding general accepted full responsibility for the incident, as any professional soldier would. Many of the Greenwich Village bohemians lived as if (or as though) there were no tomorrow. Random House, p. 1114.

Other sources fervently disagree with this loose approach. Mr. Fowler himself minced no words:

Every illiterate person uses this construction daily . . . .
New Fowler, p. 458.

The Oxford English Dictionary notes that examples of the use of like as a conjunction do appear in the works of “many recent writers of standing” but also points out that such use is “generally condemned as vulgar or slovenly . . . .” Quoted in New Fowler, p. 458.

As a budding grammarian, you should know of this battle. At Bubba’s you can easily get away with using like as a conjunction. But in formal settings—the faculty lounge, scholarly writing (and talking), your master’s thesis, your resume—you should use the traditional conjunctions as, as if, and as though. In the words of New Fowler:

It would appear that in many kinds of written and spoken English like as a conjunction is struggling towards acceptable standard or neutral ground. It is not there yet. But the distributional patterns suggest that the long-standing resistance to this omnipresent little word is beginning to crumble. New Fowler, p. 459.

Next Week

Next week we’ll look at the views of some experts. I think you’ll enjoy seeing what Henry Fowler and Bryan Garner think of the like word. Their views might prompt you either to break your own habit or to help others break theirs.


We hope you have enjoyed, and profited from, this discussion on the awful like word. If you have, we hope you’ll tell your friends about You may download an expanded discussion of the like word in our downloads section. Download it and send it to your friends. Download it and make your children read it.

To move to the next level, we urge you to download our Grammar Ebooks:

Understanding the Parts of Speech
Rules on Punctuation
Common Grammatical Mistakes
Developing a Powerful Style
Egg on Your Face—The Top 25 Grammatical Mistakes

And we hope you’ll be a frequent visitor to where you’ll find this blog, complete with comments from others who enjoy a study of the English language.

Ed Good
Author of A Grammar Book for You and I … Oops, Me!
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