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Like vs. As–Simple Rules to Know

The confusion in using like or as is caused by a lack of understanding of the words’ roles. In formal writing, like is used as a preposition, telling where, when or how the noun in the sentence is doing whatever it may be doing. As is used as a conjunction, joining two clauses.

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When to Use Like Instead of As

Most of the time, like compares two things.

Imagine a grown woman acting as a child.

Here, we’re comparing two things (the woman and the child), so like should be used.

Imagine a grown woman acting like a child.

The same goes for this next sentence, where we’re comparing a mother and daughter:

The little girl, as her mother, has bright red hair.

Even though the verb has follows as, it actually belongs to the noun phrase The little girl. We need like to modify her mother.

The little girl, like her mother, has bright red hair.

When to Use As Instead of Like

Frequently, as can be replaced by the way.

No one makes chocolate cake like my mother does.

Because there is a verb after like (does), the conjunction as should be used. It’s easy to say that about this sentence because as can be replaced by the way.

No one makes chocolate cake the way my mother does.
No one makes chocolate cake as my mother does.

Let’s look at another example.

He can’t play cricket like he used to.

At first glance, there appears to be no verb after like. However, when speaking, we often leave out verbs that are already implied. The implied verb is play, as in he used to play cricket. Like should be changed to as.

He can’t play cricket as he used to.

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