like or as
Which one should I choose?
Look at the sentences below and see if you can decide whether as or like is standard.
- We met Jane by chance as we came out of the restaurant.
- Reading groups like the one in the local school have proved very popular, but libraries are not valued like they used to be.
- With the thunder clouds overhead, the sky was suddenly black as night.
- “It looks like the doctor’s left already,” said the nurse.
- Guide dogs owners like dogs that are good companions as well as good workers.
The answers are at the bottom of the page – if you identified the standard usage correctly, you probably don’t need to read the rest of the page!
If you’re not so sure … read on …
The key lies in recognising whether as is a preposition or a conjunction, and whether like is a verb or a preposition. You need to think about the meaning, and look at words that are near them to help you decide.
Remember these three rules:
- if like is indicating a preference, it is a verb; if like means ‘similar to’, it is functioning as a preposition and will be followed by a noun phrase (a noun + any modifying words linked to it)
- if as is followed by a verb, it is functioning as a conjunction; if as, as … as (expressing a comparison) or as well as (‘in adddition to’) are followed by a noun phrase or adjective, they are functioning as prepositions
- if like is followed by a verb, it is functioning as a conjunction and should be replaced by as or as if in formal speech and writing
The important thing therefore is to decide what job as and like are doing: joining verb structures (as = conjunction), indicating a preference (like = verb) or linking extra information to a noun (as/like = prepositions).
In your own writing or speech, you need to ask yourself the following questions:
- do I need a conjunction because I am joining two verb structures? → if the answer is YES, choose as in formal writing and speech
- do I need a preposition to link a noun or an adjective to additional information? → if the answer is YES, choose like or as
The standard usage is in blue. Non-standard usage is crossed through – the standard version is in red.
- We met Jane by chance as we came out of the restaurant. [as = conjunction, joining 2 verb structures: met … came]
- Reading groups like the one in the local school have proved very popular, but libraries are not valued
likethey used to be. [like = preposition, followed by a noun phrase] [like = conjunction expressing comparison, followed by a verb (used to be) – non-standard in formal writing or speech so replace with as]
- With the thunder clouds overhead, the sky was suddenly black as night. [as = preposition expressing comparison, followed by a noun – often idiomatic in the form of a simile e.g. as white as a ghost]
- “It looks
likethe doctor’s left already,” said the nurse. [like = conjunction, followed by a verb (‘s left) – common in informal conversation; in formal contexts replace with as if]
- Guide dog owners like dogs that are good companions as well as good workers. [like = verb expressing perference; as well as = preposition, followed by a noun phrase]