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5: Grammar and Usage

Chapter Contents» Grammar» Prepositions» Other Prepositional Issues

5.181Use and misuse of “like”

Like is probably the least understood preposition. Its traditional function is adjectival, not adverbial, so that like is governed by a noun or a noun phrase {teens often see themselves as star-crossed lovers like Romeo and Juliet}. As a preposition, like is followed by a noun or pronoun in the objective case {the person in that old portrait looks like me}. Increasingly (but loosely) today in ordinary speech, like displaces as or as if as a conjunction to connect clauses. For example, in it happened just like I said it would happen, like should read as; and in you’re looking around like you’ve misplaced something, like should read as if. Because as and as if are conjunctions, they are followed by nouns in the nominative case {Do you work too hard, as I do?}. Although like as a conjunction has been considered nonstandard since the seventeenth century, today it is common in dialectal and colloquial usage {he ran like he was really scared}. Consider context and tone when deciding whether to impose standard English, as in the examples above.