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In the English language, the word like has a very flexible range of uses, ranging from conventional to non-standard. It can be used as a noun, verb, adverb, adjective, preposition, particle, conjunction, hedge, interjection, and quotative.

Contents

As a preposition used in comparisons

Like is one of the words in the English language that can introduce a simile (a stylistic device comparing two dissimilar ideas) as in, "He eats like a pig". It can also be used in non-simile comparisons such as, "He has a toy like hers".

As a conjunction

Like is often used in place of the subordinating conjunction as or as if. Examples:

  • They look like they don't want to go to school.
  • They look as if they don't want to go to school.

Many people became aware of the two options in 1954, when a famous ad campaign for Winston cigarettes introduced the slogan "Winston tastes good — like a cigarette should." The slogan was criticised for its usage by prescriptivists, the "as" or "as if" construction being considered more proper. Winston countered with another ad, featuring a woman with greying hair in a bun who insists that ought to be "Winston tastes good as a cigarette should" and is shouted down by happy cigarette smokers asking "What do you want — good grammar or good taste?"

The appropriateness of its usage as a conjunction is still disputed, however. In some circles it is considered a faux pas to use like instead of as or as if, whereas in other circles as sounds stilted.

As a verb

Generally as a verb like refers to a fondness for something or someone. Example:

  • I like travelling.

Like can be used to express a feeling of attraction between two people, weaker than love and distinct from it in important ways. Examples:

  • Marc likes Lizzie.

In slang and colloquial speech

The word like has developed several non-traditional uses in informal speech. These uses of like are commonly associated with Valley girls in pop culture, as made famous through the song "Valley Girl" by Frank Zappa, released in 1982, and the film of the same name, released the following year. The stereotyped "valley girl" language is an exaggeration of the variants of California English spoken by younger generations.

However, non-traditional usage of the word has been around at least since the 1950s, introduced through beat and jazz culture. The beatnik character Maynard G. Krebs (Bob Denver) in the popular Dobie Gillis TV series of 1959-1963 brought the expression to prominence. The word finds similar use in Scooby Doo (which originated in 1969) : Shaggy: "Like, let's get out of here here, Scoob!"

It is also used in the 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange by the narrator as part of his teenage slang. "I, like, didn't say anything."

Such uses of the word like can now be found everywhere English is spoken, particularly by young, native English speakers.

A common eye dialect spelling is loike.

As an adverb

Like can be used as an adverb meaning "nearly" or to indicate that the phrase in which it appears is to be taken metaphorically or as a hyperbole. Examples:

  • I, like, died!
  • They, like, hate you!

As a quotative

Like is sometimes used as a quotative to introduce a quotation or impersonation. In this usage, like functions in conjunction with a verb, generally be (but also say, think, etc.), as in the following examples:

  • She was like, "Oh my gosh no way!"
  • He was like, "I'll be there in five minutes."
  • He was like, "You need to leave the room right now!"

Like can also be used to paraphrase an implicitly unspoken idea or sentiment:

  • I was like, "Who do they think they are?"

It is also sometimes used to introduce non-verbal mimetic performances, e.g., facial expressions, hand gestures, body movement, as well as sounds and noises:

  • I was like [speaker rolls eyes].
  • The car was like, "vroom!"

See Golato (2000) for a similar quotative in German.

As a hedge

Like can be used to indicate that the following phrase will be an approximation or exaggeration, or that the following words may not be quite right, but are close enough. Examples:

  • I have like no money.
  • The restaurant is only like five miles from here.

As a discourse particle or interjection

Like can also be used in much the same way as um... as a discourse particle. It has become a trend among North American teenagers to use the word like in this way.(see Valspeak, discourse marker, and speech disfluency):

  • I, like, don't know what to do.

It is also becoming more often used (Northern England and Hiberno-English in particular) at the end of a sentence, as an alternative to you know:

  • I didn't say anything, like.

Use of "like" as a filler is a fairly old practice in Welsh English.

See Fleischman (1998) for a similar discourse particle in French.

References

Bibliography

  • Andersen, Gisle; (1998). The pragmatic marker like from a relevance-theoretic perspective. In A. H. Jucker & Y. Ziv (Eds.) Discourse markers: Descriptions and theory (pp. 147-70). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Andersen, Gisle; (2000). The role of the pragmatic marker like in utterance interpretation. In G. Andersen & T. Fretheim (Ed.), Pragmatic markers and propositional attitude: Pragmatics and beyond (pp. 79). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Barbieri, Federica. (2005). Quotative use in American English. A corpus-based, cross-register comparison. Journal of English Linguistics, 33, (3), 225-256.
  • Barbieri, Federica. (2007). 'Older men and younger women': A corpus-based study of quotative use in American English. English World-Wide, 28, (1), 23-45.
  • Blyth, Carl, Jr.; Recktenwald, Sigrid; & Wang, Jenny. (1990). I'm like, 'say what?!': A new quotative in American oral narrative. American Speech, 65, 215-227.
  • Cukor-Avila, Patricia; (2002). She say, she go, she be like: Verbs of quotation over time in African American Vernacular English. American Speech, 77 (1), 3-31.
  • Dailey-O'Cain, Jennifer. (2000). The sociolinguistic distribution of and attitudes toward focuser like and quotative like. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 4, 60–80.
  • Ferrara, Kathleen; & Bell, Barbara. (1995). Sociolinguistic variation and discourse function of constructed dialogue introducers: The case of be+like. American Speech, 70, 265-289.
  • Fleischman, Suzanne. (1998). Des jumeaux du discours. La Linguistique, 34 (2), 31-47.
  • Golato, Andrea; (2000). An innovative German quotative for reporting on embodied actions: Und ich so/und er so 'and I’m like/and he’s like'. Journal of Pragmatics, 32, 29–54.
  • Jones, Graham M. & Schieffelin, Bambi B. (2009). Enquoting Voices, Accomplishing Talk: Uses of Be+Like in Instant Messaging. Language & Communication, 29(1), 77-113.
  • Jucker, Andreas H.; & Smith, Sara W. (1998). And people just you know like 'wow': Discourse markers as negotiating strategies. In A. H. Jucker & Y. Ziv (Eds.), Discourse markers: Descriptions and theory (pp. 171-201). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Miller, Jim; Weinert, Regina. (1995). The function of like in dialogue. Journal of Pragmatics, 23, 365-93.
  • Romaine, Suzanne; Lange, Deborah. (1991). The use of like as a marker of reported speech and thought: A case of grammaticalization in progress. American Speech, 66, 227-279.
  • Ross, John R.; & Cooper, William E. (1979). Like syntax. In W. E. Cooper & E. C. T. Walker (Eds.), Sentence processing: Psycholinguistic studies presented to Merrill Garrett (pp. 343-418). New York: Erlbaum Associates.
  • Schourup, L. (1985). Common discourse particles: "Like", "well", "y'know". New York: Garland.
  • Siegel, Muffy E. A. (2002). Like: The discourse particle and semantics. Journal of Semantics, 19 (1), 35-71.
  • Taglimonte, Sali; & Hudson, Rachel. (1999). Be like et al. beyond America: The quotative system in British and Canadian youth. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 3 (2), 147-172.
  • Tagliamonte, Sali, and Alex D'Arcy. (2004). He's like, she's like: The quotative system in Canadian youth. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 8 (4), 493-514.
  • Underhill, Robert; (1988). Like is like, focus. American Speech, 63, 234-246.

External links


Simple English

Like can mean some different things:

1. We can use to like to say that we find a thing is good:

I like my house. = I think my house is good.
I like Jenny = I think Jenny is an OK person.

2. We can use like for "the same as" or "nearly the same as":

This cheese sandwich feels like rubber = the sandwich is difficult to eat, nearly the same as rubber.
Jenny is like her mother = Jenny has brown hair, and her mother also has brown hair (for example).
Your pen is like my pen = Your pen and my pen are the same sort.

3. We can also use like for "the same way as":

She runs like the wind - she and the wind are both fast.
She talks like a child - she and children speak slowly or with a high voice.

4. In a question, we can use like to ask people to talk about a thing, or to say if they find it good or not:

What's your house like? (Answer: "It has two bedrooms and a big kitchen...")
What was the film like? (Answer: "It was very good!")

5. We can also use like as "for example":

I often go to other countries, like France or Germany = I go to other countries, for example France and Germany.

6. In British and American English young people, when talking, have recently started using like as an extra word in the middle of sentences. Sometimes they use it to report what someone said, especially when mimicking the way they said it. This should never be used in writing:

The teacher was like: "Don't do that!"


As works in the same way as example 2 - comparing two things using either the word "like" or the word "as" is called making a simile (As big as an elephant). It may be better to use the word "as" for this to stop confusion with example 1.








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