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In the English language, the word like has a very flexible range of uses, ranging from conventional to non-standard. It can be used as a noun, verb, adverb, adjective, preposition, particle, conjunction, hedge, filler, and quotative.

Use in social media[edit]

In 2009, Facebook introduced the Like button.[1] A "like" in social media is a positive response to some type of online content, e.g. a image or a status update, usually communicated with a Like button. When content gets more likes, other people are more likely to see the content in their social media feed.[2] Likes have changed the way businesses and products are marketed online: they can be influential in shaping one's influence and reputation. For example, Justin Bieber's Facebook page has over 37 million likes.[3] The popularity of likes has led certain companies to offer large quantities for purchase, usually through fake accounts. However, this is in violation of Facebook's terms of service.[4][5]

As a preposition used in comparisons[edit]

Like is one of the words in the English language that can introduce a simile (a stylistic device comparing two dissimilar ideas) as in, "He plays like Okocha". It can also be used in non-simile comparisons such as, "He has a toy like hers".

As a conjunction[edit]

Like is often used in place of the subordinating conjunction as, or as if. Examples:

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 criticized for its usage by prescriptivists, the "as" 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[edit]

Generally as a verb like refers to a fondness for something or someone. Example:

Like can be used to express a feeling of attraction between two people, weaker than love and distinct from it in important ways. It does not necessarily imply a romantic attraction, but, as in the following case, it does. Examples:

In online communities (social networking or media sharing portals, e.g. on Facebook or YouTube), dedicated visual GUI elements (icons, buttons etc.) provide for users the option to like certain persons, groups, pages, status, posts, comments, published links, videos, photos, etc., thus displaying their personal attraction, acknowledgement or sympathy with the "liked" object, and this "liked" status will be constantly displayed. Some communities apply a "dislike" option (as opposed to "like"), some even make possible to withdraw one's "like". This has become especially popular on Facebook, where people may even post giant 'like' images publicly as a sign of affection. Examples:

The word can also be redoubled (often in a more juvenile sense) to indicate a more romantic interest, often with increased stress on the first 'like.' The functional basis for this repetition is a heavy emphasis on the root meaning of 'like,' which is 'to favor.'

As a colloquial adverb[edit]

In some regional dialects of English, like may be used as an adverbial colloquialism in the construction be + like + TO infinitive, meaning "be likely to, be ready to, be on the verge of." Examples:

As the following attest, this construction has a long history in the English language.

As a colloquial quotative[edit]

Like is sometimes used colloquially as a quotative to introduce a quotation or impersonation. The word is often used to express that what follows is not an exact quotation but instead gives a general feel for what was said. In this usage, like functions in conjunction with a verb, generally be (but also say, think, etc.), as in the following examples:

Like can also be used to paraphrase an implicitly unspoken idea or sentiment:

It is also sometimes used to introduce non-verbal mimetic performances, e.g., facial expressions, hand gestures, body movement, as well as sounds and noises:

See Golato (2000) for a similar quotative in German.

As a discourse particle, filler, hedge, or speech disfluency[edit]

History of this usage[edit]

The word like has developed several non-traditional uses in informal speech. Especially since the late 20th century onward, it has appeared, in addition to its traditional uses, as a colloquialism across all dialects of spoken English, serving as a discourse particle, filler, hedge, speech disfluency, or other metalinguistic unit.[6] Although these particular colloquial uses of like appear to have become widespread rather recently, its use as a filler is a fairly old regional practice in Welsh English and, in Scotland, it was used similarly at least as early as the 19th century.

Despite such prevalence in modern-day spoken English, these colloquial usages of like rarely appear in writing (unless the writer is deliberately trying to replicate colloquial dialogue) and they have long been stigmatized in formal speech or in high cultural or high social settings. Furthermore, this use of like seems to appear most commonly, in particular, among natively English-speaking children and adolescents, while less so, or not at all, among middle-aged or elderly adults. One suggested explanation for this phenomenon is the argument that younger English speakers are still developing their linguistic competence, and, metalinguistically wishing to express ideas without sounding too confident, certain, or assertive, use like to fulfill this purpose.[6]

In pop culture, such colloquial applications of like (especially in verbal excess) are commonly and often comedically associated with Valley girls, as made famous through the song "Valley Girl" by Frank Zappa, released in 1982, and the film of the same name, released in 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; this was reinforced in later decades by the character of Shaggy on Scooby Doo (who was based on Krebs). A very early use of this locution can be seen in a New Yorker cartoon of 15 September 1928, in which two young ladies are discussing a man's workplace: "What's he got - an awfice?" "No, he's got like a loft."

It is also used in the 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange by the narrator as part of his teenage slang and in the Top Cat cartoon series from 1961 to 1962 by the jazz beatnik type characters.

A common eye dialect spelling is lyk.

See Fleischman (1998) for a similar discourse particle in French.


Like can be used in much the same way as "um..." or "er..." as a discourse particle. It has become common especially among North American teenagers to use the word "like" in this way; see Valspeak, discourse marker, and speech disfluency):

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. This usage is sometimes considered to be a colloquial interjection and it implies a desire to remain calm and defuse tension:

Use of like as a filler is quite common in all varieties of spoken English. An example from R L Stevenson's 1886 novel Kidnapped:

What'll like be your business, mannie? (p 7)
'What's, like, wrong with him?' said she at last. (p 193)

Like can be used as hedge 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. It may indicate that the phrase in which it appears is to be taken metaphorically or as a hyperbole. This use of like is sometimes regarded as adverbial, as like is often synonymous here with adverbial phrases of approximation, such as "almost" or "more or less." Examples:


External links[edit]

  1. ^
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ [2]
  4. ^ Finkle, Jim (16 August 2013). "Hackers Are Creating And Selling Fake 'Likes' On Facebook, Instagram". HuffPost Tech. The Huffington Post. 
  5. ^ "Can I buy likes for my Facebook page?". Facebook Help Center. Facebook. 15 July 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Andersen, Gisle and Thorstein Fretheim, ed. (2000). Pragmatic Markers and Propositional Attitude. John Benjamins Publishing. pp. 31–3.