In the English language
, the word like
has a very flexible range of uses. It can be used as a noun
, and quotative
As a preposition or adjective, it comes from the Middle English like
", 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", and are cognates of the modern German
adjective "gleich" (=same, equal) and the modern Dutch
As a preposition used in comparisons
is one of the words in the English language
that can introduce a simile
- He eats like a pig.
- He has a toy like hers.
(Note: This last example is not a simile, which compares two dissimilar things. The toys' similarity precludes this example from being a simile. "His toy spun like Fourth of July fireworks" would work because, although the toy and the fireworks are essentially different, the comparison helps explain how the toy moved.)
As a conjunction
is often used in place of the subordinating conjunction as
or as if
- 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 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
Generally as a verb like
refers to a fondness for something or someone. Examples:
- I like traveling.
- He doesn't like lima beans.
Like can be used to express a feeling of attraction between two people, weaker than love and distinct from it in important ways. Examples:
- When using the term in this context, many teenagers will differentiate between a mere positive feeling towards someone and a crush by saying "like like" whereas "like" refers to as a friend. Alternately, this differentiation can be made by stressing the word like instead of repeating it. Example:
- * Do you "like" her or do you "like like" her?
As a noun
can be used as a noun meaning "preference" or "kind".
- We'll never see the like again.
- She had many likes and dislikes.
In slang and colloquial speech
The word like
has developed several non-traditional uses in informal speech. These uses of like
are commonly associated with Valley girls
in pop culture, 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, non-traditional 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 (which originated in 1969) :
Shaggy: "Like, let's get outta here, Scoob!"
It is also used in the 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange by the narrator as part of his teenage slang.
"I, like, didn't say anything."
Such uses of the word like can now be found virtually everywhere English is spoken, particularly by young, native English speakers.
A common eye dialect spelling is loike.
As an adverb
can be used as an adverb meaning "nearly" or to indicate that the phrase in which it appears is to be taken metaphorically. This is normally considered to be 'lazy' speech.
- I, like, died!
- They, like, hate you!
As a quotative
is sometimes used as a verbum dicendi
to introduce a quotation or paraphrase, especially if the quote is being recited from short-term memory and therefore may or may not be exact. If the speaker changes his or her voice to impersonate the person who said the quotation, it is probably in exact words. As in the examples below, Like
for this usage is always joined with a "to be" verb (was, were, is etc).
- She was, like, no way!
- He was like, I'll be there in five minutes.
- He was like [speaker's voice deepens], you need to leave the room right now!
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?
Sometimes used to introduce non-verbal quotations. For instance, facial expressions, or even miming whole-body actions (tripping, walking into something) by use of hand gestures.
See Golato (2000) for a similar quotative in German.
As a hedge
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.
- I have, like, no money.
- The restaurant is only, like, five miles from here.
As a discourse particle or interjection
can also be used in much the same way as um...
It has become a trend among North American teenagers to use the word like in this way.(see Valspeak
, discourse marker
, and speech disfluency
- 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, like, anything.
Use of "like" as a filler is a fairly old practice in Welsh English.
See Fleischman (1998) for a similar discourse particle in French.
- 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.
- 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.
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- 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.