Good Old Like and As

rogersgeorge on December 16th, 2017

“Like” and “as” are easy to get mixed up. It doesn’t help a lot to say that “as” is an adverb and “like” is a preposition. Too complicated. You might find it easier to remember, perhaps, that “as” goes with verbs, and “like” goes with nouns and pronouns.

Here’s a guy who sounds right both times, uses two different constructions, and we understand him, but he’s wrong! Take a look at the second panel in the Dec 9, 2017 edition of Mr. Fitz:

“Think like I do” sounds right. That’s because you have the verb “do,” that goes with “I.” But technically, it should be “think as I do.” By the way, it’s a good idea to include that “do” in this sort of construction; doing so removes ambiguity.

Then he hauls off and says, “think like me.” And that also sounds correct! It sounds correct because “like” feels like a preposition with that “me” all by itself after it. Well, “like” is a preposition. But he’s modifying a verb (think) with an adjective phrase. That’s a no-no. Take the book title “Black Like Me.” The color, black, an adjective, goes with the pronoun “me.” That’s correct. If he had said “a thinker like me,” since “thinker” is a noun, he would be correct, at least grammatically.

Heavy-duty grammar lesson today. Sorry.

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Like or Such As?

rogersgeorge on September 30th, 2017

The difference between “like” and “such as” is subtle, and they are often used interchangeably in informal English. But if you are writing technical material, such as a résumé or a set of complicated instructions, it pays to use the correct expression.

“Like” means “similar to, but not exact.”

“Such as” means “here’s an actual example.”

If you want to give your readers a general idea from which they can derive a pattern, use “like.” For example, you could write “…vehicular transportation like a dune buggy. Something that can handle rough terrain.”

But if you need to refer to something specific, use “such as.” So you might write  “…you need a real truck, such as a Chevy S-10.” (An S-10 is a real truck, right?)

Don’t say “I write explanations like step-by-step instructions.” Do you write instructions or don’t you? If you do, use “such as.” With a comma after the “as.”

No comic for this one. Harrumpf.

Two Scams

rogersgeorge on September 3rd, 2016

One of my most important guidelines about expository writing is to be clear. It turns out that in some circumstances you can be clear and still confuse. The auto sales industry can do this at least two ways: Supply too much information, or not enough.

First, the not-enough-info option: It’s called sidewinding. A salesman gets his hands on a car not owned by the dealership, and sells it as if it were. The buyer is none the wiser unless they need to bring in the car for service later. And the dealership doesn’t get its commission. This happened to me a couple decades back. The dealer took care of the needed repair, and the salesman lost his job.

The other one happens in a lot of industries that involve sales, and you probably heard of it. The good old Bait and Switch. Something is offered for sale, and then the thing you want isn’t available but they have something else you can buy. The something else always works in the seller’s favor, and if it’s done right, the buyer is pretty happy. I ran into a blog post by Scott Adams (writer of Dilbert) about his experience with the bait and switch. Go read it. It’s too long for me to quote, but it’s worth reading. Here’s the link again. I think this version of the bait and switch routine is somehow related to the discovery that increasing one’s choices does not increase one’s happiness.

And since this is a writing blog, I had to find something in Scott’s post to point out. This is a subtle one:

So customers either accept the bait-and-switch or they don’t buy a truck, like me.

Scott saves himself here with that comma after “truck,” making it clear that the truck is not like him, but the refusal to buy was like what he did. (I almost wrote “like him,” which would have fallen into the same trap). The rule is to make the pronoun (me or I) agree with what you’re actually comparing. “Me” would be correct if it was “a truck like me,” but it has to be “I” if it’s “refused to purchase, like I refused.” “Like” is so close to the pronoun that we make the pronoun’s case go with “like” instead of with “don’t buy.”

Just be clear—don’t let your reader think you’re like a truck.

Another Busy-Day Post

rogersgeorge on July 3rd, 2016

The word “said” is often replaced in popular culture by a couple other words, usually in informal spoken English. I don’t think I could say it any better than this edition of Steve Pastis’ Pearls Before Swine.


I’d like to do something

rogersgeorge on December 6th, 2013

The usual grammarian complaint about using “like” is that people confuse the word with “as.”

I’m going to make different complaint about using “like.” People shouldn’t say “I’d like to…” when they should actually say what they want to do.

I’d like to thank you so much for the wonderful birthday present.

I’d like to offer my condolences.

I’d like to congratulate the whole team for the completion of this project under budget and before deadline.

Bleh. Just say it!

Thank you so much for the wonderful birthday present!

Please accept my condolences.

Congratulations, team, for completing this project under budget and before deadline!

See how much more intimate and more direct it is to say what you mean?  So don’t say you’d like to do something unless you’re actually prevented from doing it, as in “I’d like to pull you out of the quicksand, but I can’t reach you.” Or something like this:

overboard-like to