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Like and as - Rules and exercises for intermediate level

Thursday, 13 October 2016
She walks like a cat. She walks like a cat. This image by Andrew Nolan from pexels.com is licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license

Like much of the English language, the words ‘as’ and ‘like’ prove that it’s the smallest words that are the trickiest to grasp. Knowing exactly when to use ‘as’ and when to use ‘like’ are something English language speakers struggle with continuously. Gaining an intermediate level understanding of ‘like’ and ‘as’ will help you not only speak English effectively, but also write to a good standard.

Like and as

In the next sections we are looking at ‘like’ and ‘as’ as prepositions (i.e. followed by a noun or pronoun) and as conjunctions (i.e. followed by a subject + verb).

Like: form and uses

We use ‘like’ when we want to say that something (a noun) is similar to something else (another noun).

Examples of ‘like’ as a preposition include ‘he lives like a vagrant’ or ‘she walks like a cat’.

'Like' can also be used as a conjunction and is then mostly found in informal spoken English or written dialogue in place of 'as'. Examples of 'like' as a conjunction include "Nobody can talk like I do". However, "Nobody can talk as I do" has the same meaning.

As: form and uses

We use ‘as’ when we want to say that something or someone has the role or appearance of something.

Examples of ‘as’ as a preposition include, ‘he worked as a nurse’. This has quite a different meaning to ‘he worked like a nurse’, which implies he worked as hard as a nurse might, rather than the first sentence which explains that he had an actual job as a nurse.

Further examples of ‘as’ as preposition include, ‘I’m dressing up as a devil’ or ‘she’s speaking as the director’.

When 'as' is used as a conjunction it is the more formal and grammatically correct choice over 'like'. An example of 'as' as a conjunction include, "This burger tastes as a burger should". This sounds more formal than "This burger tastes like a burger should".

“Like” and “as”, be careful!

In some idioms where one is expressing similarity ‘as’ may be used instead of ‘like’. When comparing to a specific characteristic of a person or thing, the structure ‘as + adjective + as’ is often used i.e. 'he is as rich as Midas'.

'As' and 'Like' can also give completely different meanings to a sentence when they are used as prepositions, like in the following examples:

As Shaun Lloyd is the owner of the zoo, as the owner, he has overall responsibility for the animals. (‘As the owner’= in his position as the owner)
Like Shaun's daughter, Gemma helps him and will eventually inherit the zoo. Like the owner (Shaun Lloyd), she also has a duty of care to the animals. (‘Like the owner’ = similar to the owner)"
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published in Prepositions
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Last modified on Sunday, 05 February 2017 22:56

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