1. Winston tastes good like a cigarette should. (This is a famous ad jingle?)
2. He spends money like a drunken sailor.
3. He lied on the witness stand like one would expect a guilty person to do.
4. My cousin looks like Greta Garbo.
5. Robert likes to run his company as though he were a dictator.
Only sentences 3, 4, and 5 correctly employ the word “like.”
Remember, these two rules when considering the use of “like”:
Rule 1: “Like” can be either a verb or a preposition but not a conjunction. Thus, we should not use it before a subject-verb combination (a clause).
In sentences 1 and 2 we should use the conjunction “as” or “as if” in place of the word “like” because a clause follows in each case “like. In these corrected sentences, we have bracketed the clauses and capitalized the subjects and verbs to highlight the grammatical structure:
1. Winston tastes good [as a CIGARETTE SHOULD].
3. He lied on the witness stand, [as ONE WOULD EXPECT a guilty person to do].
Rule 2: We should use “like” either as a preposition to demonstrate a resemblance between two things or as a verb to express a preference.
In sentence 2 the comparison of spending money. In Sentence 4, “like Greta Garbo” is a prepositional phrase. In sentence 5, “like” is the verb in the main clause, and “as though” is the conjunction launching the subordinate (dependent) clause.
Of course, in casual correspondence or in conversations we have more flexibility, and many idiomatic expressions using “like” are perfectly acceptable even though they do not follow these rules. Consider also the expression “It looks like rain,” which employs a perfectly acceptable idiom for the highly formal statement “It looks as though it is going to rain.”
The bottom line: in formal contexts, we use “like” only as a verb or a preposition and never when we mean “as,” “as if,” or “as though.”
Do any of these sentences correctly use the word “like”?
1. Like a man walking a tightrope, he teetered on the brink of financial ruin.
2. It looks like Arthur could become the next unit director.
3. He acts like he owns the world.
4. He carried an umbrella-like everyone should do on a rainy morning.
1. Like a man walking a tightrope, he teetered on the brink of financial ruin. [Correct because we are making a comparison.]
2. It looks as though [or as if] Arthur will become the next unit director.
3. He acts as if [or as though] he owns the world.
4. He carried an umbrella, as everyone should do on a rainy morning.