Thursday, October 21, 2010

The 5 Common Grammar Uses Of "Like"

I have a problem. I am one of those. For as snobby as I can be about spelling and grammar (IF YOU PASSED THE FIFTH GRADE, YOU SHOULD KNOW WHICH "THERE" TO USE, NO EXCUSES), I am a "like" person. As in: I say "like" in probably almost every sentence. I don't know how, I don't know why. I don't know where it came from and I don't know why it can't stop. But I DO know when and where to use it. And I'd like to pass this info onto you.

See, I get very annoyed with non-"like" people try and fail to use "like" properly in a sentence. Believe it or not, there actually is a method to the madness. For example:

WRONG: "Oh my like God! I'm totally writing a, like, diary entry about Wes Z!"
RIGHT: "Oh my God! I'm like, totally writing, like, a diary entry about Wes Z."

Get it? Ehh? Ehhhhhhh? Okay, let me break down "like" into it's uses then. Maybe this will help.

1) Exaggeration

I think this is the closest way that "like" is used to its original intent of simile (It's green like a leaf.) But in its current use, it's really more about making it obvious to your listener that you are exaggerating.

EXAMPLE: He was, like, 12 feet tall. And he had an ox that was, like, blue.

2) Like = "said/thought"

"Like" is used to recreate dialogue. It can get very confusing, because "like" can mean three things here--that someone said it, 'I' thought it, or someone otherwise expressed it non-verbally.

"So Bob was like, 'What did you just say to me?' and Dave got all pumped and he was like, oh man someone is going to get killed here. And I'm like, If you punch me I will actually kill you."

In this scenario, Bob said something. Dave acted excited but didn't say anything, and 'I' merely thought that sentence. Usually stories like this require the listener to qualify, "Wait, did you actually say that or did you just think it?"

This one actually catches my attention the most because the phrase "I'm like" sounds surprisingly like "Emily" if you say it fast enough.

3) Like = "Here's the thing."

"Like" can ease you into some rough waters.

EXAMPLE "Okay so like...I don't have any peanut butter to give you."

4) Like = "For example."

This is either if you're explaining something, or if you just don't have a very strong opinion. You can find these phrases because they can usually be ended with "or something."

"Okay so like, say you're really good at the piano or something."
"I really want like a steak burrito or something."

5) Like = "Um"

Like has simply become a space-filler. It doesn't actually mean "um" exactly, but it's the kind of thing you say so that no one interrupts you, like "um" or "well."

EXAMPLE: "I that you cared."

This, I think, is actually the "like" that is used the most, and the one that I used in my very first example about Wes Z. Basically, replace "Like" with "um" and you can see why one of those sentences works and the other doesn't. "Like" doesn't break up phrases. It fills the space while you swing from clause to clause, or even fragment to fragment. Which is why it's also pretty subjective, in the end. It depends where you want to pause in a sentence. But in the end, it can pretty much go anywhere and feel natural, as long as it isn't coming in the middle of a clump of words. You'd never say:
"Merry like Christmas."
"I want some Chinese like food."
"I love Merryl like Streep."
"Let's watch Forty like Year-Old Virgin."

And that's it. I'm racking my brains trying to find another use, but as far as I can tell, they all can fit into one of those 5. Can anyone find another use?

1 comment:

FreeFlying said...

I keep trying to quit using "like" because I want to sound like an adult. But sometimes it's just so necessary. I think, from your breaking it down for me, it's the insinuation of exaggeration that gets me. I even use it in my writing.

Also, this made me laugh. Which is, like, awesome.