Usage of the word "like"


In the sentence:

"John is not a chocolate lover, like Mary."

Is Mary a chocolate lover?


I find this sentence structure even in an expensive University text book:

"However, the pigment is not believed to be toxic, like its nutrient cousin, vitamin A."

(Prentice, William E.; Arnheim, Daniel D. (2010-03-06). Arnheim's Principles of Athletic Training: A Competency-Based Approach (Kindle Location 5057). McGraw-Hill Higher Education -A. Kindle Edition.)


Does that mean vitamin A is or is not harmful in high doses?


I think the problem is that the phrase that begins with the word "like" could refer either to the beginning or the ending of the main clause. And since the main clause has two opposing ideas, the meaning of the "like" phrase is ambiguous.

ambiguity asked Apr 13 '13 at 12:56 English Teacher New member

1 answer


Dear English Teacher,
Thanks for such a fascinating question!  According to a primarily British grammar/usage reference (Michael Swan’s Practical English Usage, 3rd edition, p. 306), here are the rules:
(1) After a negative clause, a comparison with as or like usually refers only to the positive part of what comes before.
a. I don’t smoke, like Jane.  (Jane smokes)
(2) Before a negative clause, the comparison refers to the whole clause.
a. Like Mary, I don’t smoke.  (Mary doesn’t smoke)
If these rules apply beyond British English (I consulted Garner’s Modern American Usage and did not find anything to the contrary, and these rules certainly sound correct to my Canadian-English ear), then the answers to your questions would be as follows – both following rule #1, above:
John is not a chocolate lover, like Mary. – Mary loves chocolate; John doesn’t
However, the pigment is not believed to be toxic, like its nutrient cousin, vitamin A. (Vitamin A is believed to be toxic; the pigment is not)  

link comment edited Apr 13 '13 at 14:01 Shawn Mooney Expert

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