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The word like is a word in English that can be a noun, verb, adverb, adjective, preposition, particle, conjunction, hedge, interjection, and quotative.

Word history[edit | edit source]

As preposition or adjective, it comes from the Middle English like meaning "similar", which in turn comes from Anglo-Saxon gelīc and Old Norse líkr. The verb "to like" came from Anglo-Saxon līcian. Both words may be related to Anglo-Saxon līc = "body".

As a preposition used in comparisons[edit | edit source]

Like is one of the words in the English language that can introduce a simile. Examples:

  • He eats like a pig.
  • He has a toy like hers.

Similes can be contrasted with metaphors, which are phrases which say that something is something else when the intended meaning is that the two things are similar in some way:

  • He was a pig yesterday. (Intended meaning: He ate like a pig yesterday.)

As a conjunction[edit | edit source]

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

  • He acts like a girl does.
  • He acts as a girl does.
  • 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 the slogan 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[edit | edit source]

Like can be used to express a feeling of attraction, often infatuation. Examples:

  • I like her.
  • They like Jane.

As an adjective[edit | edit source]

Like can be used as an adjective meaning "similar". Examples:

  • He is like her.
  • This tastes like chocolate.

As a noun[edit | edit source]

Like can be used as a noun meaning "preference" or "kind". Examples:

  • We'll never see the like again.
  • She had many likes and dislikes.

Valley speak and beatniks[edit | edit source]

In modern English slang, primarily in the U.S., but increasingly elsewhere, like has an increasing number of uses. Widespread among youth and increasing among adults, these uses of like are traditionally associated with Valley girls, 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, nontraditional 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, in which like has been used by Shaggy for numerous occasions. This change in usage is called a functional shift. This type of usage, though widespread, is often considered substandard. Nonetheless, it is a valid change in language use, comparable to many others.

As an adverb[edit | edit source]

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

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

As a quotative[edit | edit source]

Like is sometimes used as a verbum dicendi to introduce a quotation or paraphrase. Examples:

  • She was, like, no way!
  • He was like, I'll be there in five minutes.
  • So I'm like, what are you talking about?

Like can also be used to communicate a pantomime, or to paraphrase an explicitly unspoken idea or sentiment:

  • I was like [speaker rolls eyes].
  • I was like, who does she think she is?

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

As a hedge[edit | edit source]

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 like five miles from here.

As a discourse particle or interjection[edit | edit source]

Like can also be used in much the same way as um... (see Valspeak):

  • 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.

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

External links[edit | edit source]

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Buchstaller, Isabelle (2004). The sociolinguistic constraints on the quotative system. British English and US English compared. PhD thesis. University of Edinburgh.
  • Buchstaller, Isabelle (2006). Globalization and Local Reappropriation: The case of the Quotative System. Christa Dürscheid, Jürgen Spitzmüller (Eds.). Trends and Developments in Youth Language Research. Frankfurt: Lang.
  • Buchstaller, Isabelle (2006). Social Stereotypes, Personality Traits and Regional Perceptions displaced: Attitudes towards the “new” quotatives in the UK. Journal of Sociolinguistics.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Underhill, Robert. (1988). Like is like, focus. American Speech, 63, 234-246.


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