In high school, when you read Shakespeare’s sonnets or other poetry, you are taught that a “simile” is a comparison made using like or as. But odds are, no one has told you that there’s actually a difference between the two words. Like and as have two separate functions and if you’re just finding this out, I suggest you keep reading!
Those of you who are not “grammar Nazis” probably skipped my Grammar Guide about prepositions. However, we need to talk a little bit about prepositions to figure out why like is different than as. According my prepositions post:
Prepositions are words that show the relationship between the noun which follows it and other words in the sentence.
Like is preposition, and therefore should be used with a noun. Although it’s commonplace to use like as a conjunction (word that connects–like “and,” “or,” “but” etc), that’s not it’s proper usage. Let’s look at some examples.
- She dressed up like a cat. (Like is used with “cat”)
- The store smells like fish. (Like is used with “fish”)
Here’s some incorrect uses:
- It’s like walking on air (Prepositions are used with nouns, not verbs)
- “It’s Almost Like Being in Love” (This popular song from the musical Brigadoon is also incorrect)
Most people just use like because it’s more informal and casual. However, true grammarians will hunt you down if you use it like in the latter examples.
As usually makes you sound like a pretentious intellectual and there’s valid reasoning for that. As is used with verbal phrases (meaning a verb follows it at some point), which tend to be more complicated than prepositions. Let’s look at some examples:
- It’s as if I were walking on air.
- It’s as though I were in love.
- My cat meowed as if she were a little tiger.
Notice here we do not have NOUNS following as, but some sort of verbal phrase. As far as I know, there’s no real distinguishing feature between “as if” and “as though,” so you can choose your preference. “Were” is also used quite frequently with as.
Like is used with a noun following it (as a preposition) and as is used with a verbal phrase after it. Oh and the image? It’s a reference to the poem “My Love is like a Red, Red Rose” by Robert Burns. 😀 Good luck!