Posted by: suekenney | May 19, 2012

As You Like It

Nope, not going to talk about Shakespeare or his play.  I’ve been doing a bit of editing lately, and one issue that comes up repeatedly is the use of as or like.  There’s already plenty that’s been said on the subject, but I’ll throw in my two cents’ worth.

As, for all you grammar nerds, is a conjunction – that is, it links together words, phrases, clauses, or sentences.  It’s frequently used with another word such as “as if” or “as though.”  For an example, you could say, “It sounded as if a million birds were singing in that tree.”  (As is linking the independent clause “It sounded” with the dependent clause “a million birds were singing in that tree.”)  Like, on the other hand, is a preposition – that is, it shows how one word relates to something else in the sentence.  For example:  “She sang like a bird.”  (“Bird” is being related to “sang” by showing HOW she sang.)

The problem is that more and more commonly, like is being used as a conjunction.  Who among my generation can forget the iconic and controversial, “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.”  But really, it should read, “Winston tastes good as a cigarette should.”  A quick rule of thumb to distinguish between the two is that like is usually followed by simple constructions, while as is followed by more complex constructions; also, as is the one that would be followed by a verb.

So instead of saying, “It’s like I’m walking on air,” say “It’s as though I’m walking on air.”  Instead of “He talked to me just like he was the boss,” say “He talked to me just as if he was the boss.”  (Or “He talked to me just as if he were the boss.”  But we’re not talking about the subjunctive mood here, are we?)  In general, look for a verb right after the word in question; if there is a verb, use as, and if  there is no verb, use like.

Well, really, some of you might be saying, who cares?  If that’s the way the spoken language is going, then let’s just give in to the inevitable and accept that like has now become a conjunction.  Ah, but that’s a whole different issue, which I will take up at a later date.

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Responses

  1. Hi Sue – I am completely and utterly on your side, and so tired of correcting and explaining the difference you describe so well. But I fear we are fighting a losing battle – like is winning! Language is alive and constantly evolving – sadly for us die-hards!

    • I know, I know. And I am torn between my desire to keep things as I have always known them, and my delight in the beautiful flexibility of our language – where nouns can become verbs, and adjectives can become nouns, and other languages add so much more depth and expressiveness. Someday I will write a post on how I feel about all that – but I have to figure it all out first!

      • We learnt to parse sentences when I was at school, and knew the parts of speech. Much derided nowadays, but it was a huge help when it came to learning foreign languages, as well as helping to understand how to use our own language properly. So – bring back grammar lessons, is what I say! Think I feel a blog post coming on!

      • Hear, hear! And I would love to see your take on it.

  2. Sue, I chuckled while reading this but then realized maybe I should pay attention a little more when I do write. Thanks for the reminder.

    • You’re welcome. I need that reminder too – I really didn’t pay much attention to the issue until I started editing in earnest, and then it just started coming up all over the place. Just wait till I get started on it’s and its!

      • I’m waiting for that one because I know I fall into that bad habit as well!

      • Guess I’ll have to do it soon then, eh? It’s on my list!

  3. I have to admit–I’m a “like offender.” But I blame it on growing up in the 1990s. You can’t believe the tongue biting I had to do in my early twenties to stop from interjecting it every four words. So, I might let myself slide on this one.

    • So you’re sort of a recovering like-aholic? All shall be forgiven! Seriously, I’m sure I slip up myself. As witness my agonizing over using “snuck” instead of “sneaked.” Once I stopped teaching grammar on a regular basis, I just gave in to the local predilection for “snuck,” so that sometimes I don’t even hear myself say it now. Or bother correcting it when I DO hear myself.


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