As a teenager in the 1980s, I incorporated some ungrammatical words and phrases from pop culture into my day-to-day dialogue. One of the worst habits I picked up was saying the word “like” to accent almost everything that came out of my mouth. (Like, I was totally, like, bad about it!) Eventually, I stopped, but my bad habit left a scar. I still have a grammar usage problem with the word like!
It turns out that there are certain words in the English language that create special problems in usage. These words can cause confusion in both speaking and writing, and the word like is on the list! The only way to combat the problem is to 1) learn more about the word and 2) use it correctly. Completing a word-study exercise with your students is a great way to discuss word usage. Here's an example:
Like has multiple uses in Standard English, and it can be used formally and informally when speaking and writing. Formally, it can be used as a noun, a verb, an adjective, a preposition, and a conjunction. Informally, it can be used as an adverb.
Etymology explains that the formal usage of like as a conjunction began in the mid-14th century, but many grammarians regard this usage as an error. Also, since the mid-19th century, grammarians have been engaged in a long and complicated dispute over the use of the word like as a preposition or not. Many prefer to use as or as if instead of like.
Here’s a simple way to keep the information straight: The word like, meaning “similar to,” is a preposition, not a subordinate conjunction. Use like to introduce prepositional phrases. Use the subordinate conjunctions as or as if to introduce subordinate clauses. Examples:
Informally, the word like can be used as an adverb when speaking, but it’s rare to see it written that way. Authors will use it on occasion for emphasis or to capture colloquialism. (So, that means I wasn’t totally wrong back in the 1980s! Right?)
Remember, a good command of the English language requires mastering the rules and applying them correctly when speaking and writing. I encourage you to make word-study a part of your language arts time. This activity will help you understand the word meanings, how to spell them, and in what situation to use them.
From your word-study activity, create a list of common English usage problems and study it! You will speak and write with more competence and confidence once your master the lists. We have provided a few example lists for you below, but you can find more resources located in your Shurley English book!