Saturday, February 25, 2012

"Like" vs "As"

The Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage states that “probably no single question of usage has created greater controversy in recent years” than the conjunctive use of like.

Like is a preposition. It should be followed by an object to make a prepositional phrase.
As is a conjunction. It should be followed by a clause containing a subject and a verb.

Incorrect: He runs like a deer does.
(Like is followed by a clause.)

Correct: He runs like a deer.
Correct: He runs as a deer does.

Like and as are often confused in English. They can both be used to talk about how things are similar.

Like is followed by a noun or pronoun. For example, "I'm like my sister", or "Like my sister, I have brown eyes."

As is followed by a subject and verb. For example, "She's a good student, as her brother was before her."
However, in spoken English, like is often used instead of as. "She's a good student, like her brother was before her."
As is used with a preposition, such as, "As in the 1960's, the population explosion will cause some problems."
We can use as in certain expressions, such as "as you know", "as you requested", "as we agreed".
We also use as… to give comparisons. For example, "He's as clever as his sister."


Be careful, in similar sentences that use LIKE and AS, the meanings of each sentence are very different. For example:
  • As your boss, I must warn you to be careful. (I am your boss.)
  • Like your boss, I must warn you to be careful. (I am not your boss, but he/she and I have similar attitudes.)
In English we also use as if to make comparisons. However it has a few distinct characteristics to its use:
1. The verb after AS IF is always in the past subjunctive, no matter what tense the sentence is.
2. If the verb BE directly follows AS IF, we use were for all personal pronouns.
  • He looks as if he knew the answer.
(The verbs LOOKS indicates this sentence is in the present – but the verb after AS IF – knew - is in the past subjuntive).
  • She walks as if she were a supermodel.
(The verb after AS IF – be – has been changed to were and not was).
  • He boarded the airplane as if he were a seasoned traveler.
  • He spends money as if he owned a bank.


She sings ______ an angel. 
I'm much better ______ you can see.
 My sister is not at all ______ me.
 My daughter is just ______ my sister.
 I'm attending the meeting ______ an observer.
I use one of the bedrooms ______ an office. You are very ______ your mother.
 I hope to qualify ______ an engineer.
My friend Rob looks ______ John Travolta.
There is too much traffic in London ______ in New York.
We're late for the train. We'll have to run ______ the wind.
 I'm your friend and, ______ a friend, I advise you to think again.
  ______ your friend, I advise you to get another opinion.
You don't like confrontations, ______ me.
I want to join the air force ______ a pilot. 
We need a strong leader ______ Winston Churchill.    
He has gone to our competitors ______ marketing manager.  
I've appointed Simon Williams ______ the new trustee. 
I've done the work ______ we agreed. 
I was sure, ______ was everybody else, that you would do well in this job.