Like vs. as

 

Q:

When do you use like as opposed to as?

Marla Yackshaw
[email protected]

A:

Like and as have these principal distinctions:

Like—used as a preposition—is followed by a noun, a pronoun, a gerund (-ing form of the verb, used as a noun), or a noun clause. As—used as a conjunction—introduces a subordinate clause (remember that a clause contains a verb).

Here are some uses of like.

Like—used here as a preposition—shows similarity:

The climate in Havana is like the climate in Miami.

He works like a dog.

Do you remember Princess Diana? My sister looks just like her.

I love sailing on open water on a beautiful day—it's like being in paradise.

Oh! You got lost? That's like what happened to me.

Like can be used to mention examples to mean "such as":

A lot of older people, like my grandparents, for example, are enjoying their retirement by traveling all over the world.

There are many things to do at the resort, like swimming, snorkeling, and sailing.

(It's possible to use like and such as (NOT as alone) interchangeably in the two sentences above; used in this way to introduce examples, like is somewhat less formal.)

Here are some uses of as.

As—a subordinating conjunction here—can be used to show similarity in a subordinate clause:

Treat people as you want them to treat you.

Benny is an excellent long-distance runner, just as his father was.

As can be used to indicate that one event was happening at the same time as another:

The president arrived just as all the guest were leaving.

As the man got off the elevator, he was arrested by two policemen.

As … as is used in comparisons:

Benny runs as fast as his father did.

Benny runs as fast as his father. (You can use the noun only; the verb is understood).

Problem area: As can also be used as a preposition meaning equal to; it is different from like, which means similar, but not equal to. Look at these sentences:

(a)

Ferguson worked as a teacher in a rural area for twenty years.
(He was a teacher, or, he worked in the capacity of a teacher)

(b)

Mary's not a nurse, she's a nurse's assistant, but she works like a nurse, with almost the same responsibility, and doing the same things.

(c)

As the president, he called for peace between the warring nations.
(In the capacity of president, he called for peace)

(d)

Like the president, he called for peace between the warring nations.
(In a manner like the president's, another person called for peace)

(e)

Who used my knife as a screwdriver?
(My knife = a screwdriver)

(f)

A knife is like a screwdriver in some ways.
(A knife is similar to a screwdriver)

Which person would you prefer to see when you are sick: A person who works as a doctor, or a person who works like a doctor?

Confusing area: Like, informally, can be used as a conjunction, to introduce a subordinate clause, to mean as if or as though. Some strict grammarians, however, disapprove of using like in this way:

I felt like I had been run over by a truck.
She looked like she might faint.

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