Language Corner

Like you were

Using “like” as a conjunction can earn you dirty looks from some quarters. The example most often cited by anti-conjunctionists is “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” It should be “as,” they say, or maybe “the way.” (A conjunction connects two clauses, each of which has a subject and a verb.)

This position is held by The Associated Press, whose stylebook says, “Use like as a preposition to compare nouns and pronouns. It requires an object: Jim blocks like a pro. The conjunction as is the correct word to introduce clauses: Jim blocks the linebacker as he should.” It is also held by The New York Times, whose stylebook calls avoiding it “traditional usage, preferred by The Times.” And it is held, somewhat less tightly, by The Chicago Manual of Style: “Although like as a conjunction has been considered nonstandard since the seventeenth century, today it is common in dialectal and colloquial usage (he ran like he was really scared). Consider context and tone when deciding whether to impose standard English.”

That covers most style guides used by journalists, but many writers, bloggers, and communicators like to use “like” like a conjunction. Garner’s Modern American Usage puts the conjunction at Stage 4 of its five-stage Language-Change Index, meaning only “die-hard snoots” object to its usage. If that’s your audience, beware. If not, do like you like.

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Merrill Perlman managed copy desks across the newsroom at The New York Times, where she worked for 25 years. Follow her on Twitter at @meperl.