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Like vs. As

on July 26th, 2010 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill and last modified on January 10, 2011

Like and as are easily misused. Actually, it’s usually like that’s misused while as is underused.

I change many instances of like to as when I edit. But I also leave some that technically should be changed. Why? Let’s look at the differences between like and as first and then I’ll tell you why I don’t change some misuses.

Like is used for a comparison, typically of things. It’s often used when comparing nouns or comparing something to a noun. The noun follows like in the sentence…

Little Katie looks just like her momma.

The skin on his palms felt like the finest grain sandpaper.

Dorothy laughed like a hyena.

The prisoner ate like a pig.

The following examples are incorrect…

Little Katie looks like she’s about to cry.  X
(Little Katie looks as if she’s about to cry.)

The skin on his palms felt like he’d run sandpaper over it. X
(The skin on his palms felt as though he’d run sandpaper over it.)

Dorothy laughed like she was a hyena. X
(Dorothy laughed as though she were a hyena.)

The prisoner ate like the food would disappear before he could swallow. X
(The prisoner ate as though the food would disappear before he could swallow.)

Use as when you’re not comparing something to a noun. Verbs, rather than nouns, typically follow the use of as.

When don’t I change like to as, even when the words following like are not noun but verb? In dialogue.

Many, many people use like rather than as in speech. Characters in novels would use such a construction just as easily as people in the real world. So, if the use fits the character, I leave like in dialogue. Now, if the character is highly educated or picky in his mannerisms, I would definitely suggest switching like to as for him as well.

Be sure to reserve like for comparisons. The construction in this next example often slips past the most careful of writers because it seems to be making a comparison. Yet, in this sentence we’re not comparing foods to certain types of foods. We are expanding on the category of food…

Foods like cakes, pies, and cookies are great for the taste buds, yet bad for the arteries. X

Correct construction for this sentence is…

Foods such as cakes, pies, and cookies are great for the taste buds, yet bad for the arteries.

Both like and as have other uses. This article serves to show the correct uses in circumstances when the two words might be confused for one another.

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Tags:     Posted in: Grammar & Punctuation

2 Responses to “Like vs. As”

  1. Vivian A says:

    Now I need to check my “likes”. Sheesh! I do agree with the dialogue differentiation, but the others seem fairly natural to me so there’s hope for me yet.

    Like and as can both be used as similes or comparisons, could you expand on how this rule fits in with the above advice?

  2. Beth says:

    Vivian, as a comparison, like is used when similarities of two objects (nouns) are being pointed out. The comparison can be a shortcut to give the reader a quick impression of what the object is like. Comparisons can be made using like to jab at the reader’s emotions as well—his unblinking eyes looked like a snake’s, calculating and brutal.

    While as is also used for comparison—she’s as happy as a clam—using as as I’ve used it here in contrast to like is a different situation. As if and as though are used, with a verb, to indicate doubt or improbability. She acted as if she were queen. (She probably wasn’t a queen.) If we’d said, she acted like the Queen, we’d be saying something different.

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