WOW 5

like or as

stick man

Which one should I choose?

Look at the sentences below and see if you can decide whether as or like is standard.

  1. We met Jane by chance as we came out of the restaurant.
  2. Reading groups like the one in the local school have proved very popular, but libraries are not valued like they used to be.
  3. With the thunder clouds overhead, the sky was suddenly black as night.
  4. “It looks like the doctor’s left already,” said the nurse.
  5. 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 …

banana skin1b  How can I avoid slipping up?

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:

  1. 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) 
  2. 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
  3. 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
ANSWERS

The standard usage is in blue. Non-standard usage is crossed through – the standard version is in red.

    1. We met Jane by chance as we came out of the restaurant. [as = conjunction, joining 2 verb structures: met … came]
    2. Reading groups like the one in the local school have proved very popular, but libraries are not valued like they 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]
    3. 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]
    4. “It looks like the 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]
    5. 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]
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One response to “WOW 5

  1. Pingback: WOWs | Sara Thorne English Language

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