‘Like’, ‘such as’ or ‘as though‘? These are three options that seem interchangeable but aren’t. ‘Like’ is close to being the most overused word in the language and apart from the irritation value, it’s often used wrongly.
There are three uses of ‘like’ I won’t be dwelling on; I’ll just mention them briefly.
- ‘To like’ (the verb). That’s straightforward – and correct
- ‘Like’ as a filler – e.g. He was, like, playing the music, like, all night until I was going, like, crazy. Enough said
- ‘Like’ as a noun, which it was never really meant to be – and rarely was – until Facebook came along. Even the French language now has les likes and a verb, liker.
‘Like’, ‘such as’, or ‘as though’: which to use?
Leaving the above three uses of ‘like’ to one side, there are three main things to remember:
1. ‘Like’ is a preposition that means ‘similar to’
It’s used to compare something with something else.
He drives like a demon would (recklessly or with evil intent?).
She looked very much like her sister.
That’s pretty easy.
Unfortunately, writers often use ‘like’ when they should use something else.
2. ‘Such as’ means ‘for example’
Obviously, then, it’s used to introduce one or more examples in a category.
She cooks with meat alternatives, such as tofu, tempeh, mushrooms and oat and pea proteins.
You might prefer autumn colours, such as red, orange, gold and brown.
‘Like’ and ‘such as’ are not usually interchangeable; they certainly aren’t in these sentences.
Consider what happens when a writer tries to use ‘like’ to give examples:
She cooks with meat alternatives, like tofu, tempeh, mushrooms and oat and pea proteins.
You might prefer autumn colours, like red, orange, gold and brown.
The meaning is confused.
If you’re looking for meat alternatives like those mentioned, does that exclude the five in the list? If I prefer colours like red, do I actually approve of red itself?
And what other non-meat proteins or autumn colours are like those mentioned, anyway? Probably none; the lists seem fairly complete.
‘As though’ or ‘like’?
‘As though’ is saying ‘in a way that indicates’. It is followed by a subject and verb:
He talks as though he knows everything.
She argued as though her life depended on it.
In these sentences, ‘like’ just doesn’t make sense.
‘Like’ makes a comparison between two things (nouns or pronouns). If you really want to use it in these sentences, it needs to be followed by a noun or a pronoun:
He sounds like someone who knows everything.
She argued like a woman whose life depended on it.
These are correct but less effective sentences.
‘Like’, ‘such as’ or ‘as though’?
There might be times when you really don’t think it matters. That’s fine; it’s your choice.
As usual, though, always check for clarity of meaning.
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