11 Extra Ways to Use Like
As I mentioned before, like is one of the most versatile words in the English language. So far, we have reviewed the 5 most commonly taught and traditional ways of using it. Now, we will explore all the fantastically diverse ways to incorporate like into your conversation.
icon-exclamation-triangle CAUTION: Using like in the following ways will make you sound like a native speaker!
TO EXPRESS SPECIAL FEELINGS OR AN ATTRACTION TO SOMEBODY:
S + LIKE + O
You know that feeling you have when you think someone is extra special and you can’t stop thinking about them but you don’t want to go so far as to say that you love them? Well, let like help you express your feelings without committing to the (other) L Word. When we say that we like someone, it means that we are interested in a person in a special way without attaching too much emotion to it. In this context, like is functioning as a verb.
“I was taught that if a boy is mean to me it’s because he likes me.” (He is interested in me).
“Sorry Katie, I like you as a friend but I don’t like you.” (I enjoy having you as a friend but nothing more than that.)
TO INTRODUCE A QUOTE OR REPORT WHAT SOMEONE SAID (Direct Speech):
S + be + LIKE, + “Direct Quote”
The use of like in this way is basically the same as using a reporting verb such as say, tell and ask. The grammar rules are the same as well. Direct speech must be between quotation marks (inverted commas) and a comma separates like from the quotation. There is no ‘back shifting’ of the main verb in Direct Speech.
“I told him I didn’t enjoy the movie and he was like, ‘Really! It’s my favorite! I can’t believe you didn’t like it’”. (Direct Speech)
“I wore my new shoes to school today and all the girls were like, ‘Where’d you get those shoes? They’re so nice!’”. (Direct Speech)
“She told me her mother bought her a new car for her birthday and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! I am so jealous!’”. (Direct Speech)
TO REPORT WHAT WASN’T ACTUALLY SAID, BUT WHAT WAS THOUGHT:
S + be + LIKE, + “Thought”
Sometimes in conversation there are things that we think but never say out loud. Whether out fear, embarrassment, sensitivity or politeness, sometimes we censor ourselves so that we don’t hurt someone’s feelings or get ourselves in trouble. When we report speech, either directly or indirectly, we often include our true thoughts about the topic. The structure is exactly that of using like to introduce direct speech, however, punctuation isn’t necessary because nothing was actually spoken.
“My boss asked me if I could work late and I was like, ‘ummm, no!’ but of course I told him, ‘No problem, sir. I’d be happy to.’”
(Her boss asked her to work late which she didn’t really want to do, but she said yes anyways.)
“My boyfriend said that he had an important question to ask me so I was like, ‘oh my god! He’s going to ask me to marry him!’ and then he asked me what size shoe I wear and I had to pretend I wasn’t disappointed.”
(She was excited because she thought her boyfriend was about to ask her to be his wife but was disappointed by the actual question.)
TO IMITATE OR MIMIC SOMETHING OR SOMEONE:
S + be + LIKE, + direct speech / sound / physical gesture
Just like we can report speech or even a thought, we can also report an action or sound.
There are lots of ways to use like in this manner, for example, when somebody does something funny we often mimic or imitate it when we tell someone else about it. We sometimes use it when we want to recreate a sound that was heard.
“He told me that I was the most beautiful girl he has ever seen and I was like, roll my eyes.” (Here, she didn’t say “roll my eyes” but instead performed the action.)
“The car was speeding down the street when suddenly another car turned in front of it and the car slammed on its breaks like, ‘eeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrr’!”
TO MAKE AN APPROXIMATION OF QUANTITY:
S + verb +, LIKE, + O
One of the most common ways of using like is as a hedging device. When we want to give an approximate time or quantity, we say like first to let our listener know that what we are going to say may not be completely accurate but close enough. In this way, it takes on the meaning of similar adverbials such as ‘more or less’ and ‘almost’ and helps express our uncertainty. In this structure, it is usually followed by a number, time or noun.
“I should be there in, like, five minutes.”
“I can’t go out for dinner this week because I’ve got, like, no money.”
“I really want that jacket but it’s going to cost, like, a hundred dollars!”
TO OFFER AN EXAMPLE:
S + V + O, LIKE + Noun / Noun Phrase
When we want to give an example of something to help someone understand what we mean, in almost all cases, we can replace for example with like if it is followed by a noun or noun phrase.
“Have you ever eaten anything weird, like worms?”
“Are you interested in anything to drink, like some tea or coffee?”
“I enjoy visiting historical places, like the Pyramids of Giza and the Mayan ruins in Mexico.”
TO ADD EMPHASIS OR REINFORCE WHAT YOU ARE SAYING:
S +, V + LIKE, + O or LIKE, S + V + O
When we want someone to understand that we really mean something, we like to add emphasis and like helps us do that. We can use like in conjunction with the verb in the middle of a sentence or in the beginning of a sentence.
“Did you see the sunset last night? It, was like, so beautiful!”
“I waited for the bus for over an hour! I, was like, so late to work!”
“Like, it is such a beautiful day today! Let’s go to the beach.”
TO REDUCE OUR CONVICTION OR FORCE:
S + V, LIKE, + O
Sometimes we want to add emphasis to what we say (as in the example above) but sometimes it’s necessary to lessen or reduce the force or conviction of what you say. For example, when we need to say something important or firm but don’t want to be impolite, demanding or sound rude, we use like to soften the blow.
“Sally, you’ve been late to work, like, every day this week. I think you should try to, like, catch an earlier train or something.”
“I’m trying to study. Could you, like, go watch tv in the other room, please?”
Sometimes we have to make a suggestion or a decision and we want to express that we aren’t very sure of it. When we use it in this way, although we may be making a statement, we say it as if we are asking a question, with our intonation rising at the end of the sentence. This also lets our listeners know that we aren’t very certain.
“Saturday won’t be a good day to go swimming but maybe we can, like, go to the cinema instead.”
“I can’t help you with your project today, but maybe I could, like, tomorrow.”
AS AFFIRMATION OF WHAT YOU SAY, ADVISE OR SUGGEST:
S + V + O, LIKE
Though more colloquial, like can be used as a sort of way to affirm understanding of the advice you give or a suggestion you make. It replaces the more common, you know?
“The exam is difficult but you’ve been studying hard so just relax, like.”
“Don’t let what they said bother you. Just be cool, like.”
AS A DISCOURSE MARKER:
When we want to organize our thoughts or statements in to segments, we use various discourse markers to direct the conversation. Commonly used examples are, well…, I mean… or the thing is...
“Like, I want to go to the party but I have to work that night.”
“When you said that I should reconsider my plans, like, what did you mean?”
“I know I promised to come in to work on Saturday, but like, I don’t have any transport to town.”
AS A FILLER:
Of all the various ways we can use like, the most common and probably the most overused (and annoying) function is that of the filler. Growing up in the United States, we referred to this as “Valley Girl” speak. The legend goes that girls in the “Valley” area of Southern California invented this way of filling the space when they just didn’t know what to say or needed extra time to find the right words. Since the 1980’s this use of like has spread all over the world and has imbedded itself in almost every English conversation. It has served for a substitute for other fillers (which can be equally as annoying) such as, ‘uh’, ‘um’ and ‘er’. Because of its overuse, this function has earned itself a bad reputation and most English teachers would never encourage a learner to use it. However, there is no sign of it ever going extinct.
Fillers serve an important purpose. Sometimes our brains just work slower than our mouths. Sometimes we just need a bit more time to find that perfect word or even remember something. Long pauses are not natural in conversations so if we take too long to say something, the other person may take it as if you are through speaking and may interrupt you. Fillers may be annoying but they are important.
“What did you do last weekend?”
“I went to see the film at…like…that new cinema on Long Street.”
“So, would you ever get married again?”
“I don’t know. Like., I want to but not now. Maybe…like… after a few years and I like…. meet the right person. I’m like…. a bit scared of being hurt again.”
The following conversation uses like in all the various ways.
Can you identify the specific function of each like?
A: So, like, what do you want to eat for dinner?
B: Like, I don’t know. It’s like, such a beautiful day outside, we should, like, go see what restaruants are open on the beach.
A: That sounds like a great idea! But, like, how will we get there? I have, like, no gas in my car.
B: Like, don’t worry! We can, like, call Ben and see if he, like, wants to go and he can, like, drive us there.
A: Are you sure that’s, like, a good idea? Like, you guys, like, just broke up.
B: Well, I mean, like, the last time I saw him he was like, “Even though we aren’t boyfriend and girlfriend anymore, I still, like, want to be friends with you. I still like you as a person”.
A: And, like, what did you say?
B: I was like, friends!? Just friends?! But of course, I said like, “Yeah. I, like, feel the same way about you. I like you but I don’t like, like you like that”.
A: And like, what did he say after that?
B: He said that he was, like, happy that I felt the same way. So, we’re, like, totally cool with each other.
A: Yeah, but…like…I heard from Tony who said that Ben told him that like the reason he doesn’t want to, like, be with you anymore is because you like say like too much.
B: Like, what does that even mean?
If you’d like to hear LIKE in action, especially in it’s classic Valley Girl accent, check out this scene from the 90’s classic film, Clueless.