like (2). Today: “Like” as a Conjunction. In traditional usage, “like” is a preposition that governs nouns and noun phrases, not a conjunction that governs verbs or clauses. Its function is adjectival, not adverbial. Hence one does not write, properly, “The story ended like it began,” but “The story ended as it began.” If we change the verbs to nouns, “like” is correct: “The story’s ending was like its beginning.” Frequently, then, “like” needs to be replaced by the proper conjunction “as” (or “as if”) — e.g.: “Star-crossed lovers, they are — like [read ‘as’] in the play — sprung from two households, both alike in dignity.” Alisa Valdes, “Romeo & Juliet,” Boston Globe, 17 Oct. 1995, at 59. This relatively simple precept is generally observed in writing, but has been increasingly flouted in American speech. Examples of “like” used conjunctively can be found throughout the Middle English period; but the usage was widely considered nonstandard from the 17th through the mid-20th centuries. Then defenders came along, raising it to the level of a standard casualism — e.g.: o “The use of ‘like’ as a conjunction is a usage on the borderline of acceptability in American English.” Robert C. Pooley, Teaching English Usage 153 (1946). o “Anyone who complains that its use as a conjunction is a corruption introduced by Winston cigarettes ought, in all fairness, to explain how Shakespeare, Keats, and the translators of the Authorized Version of the Bible came to be in the employ of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.” Bergen Evans, “Grammar for Today,” Atlantic Monthly, Mar. 1960, at 80, 81. (The reference is to the old ad jingle, “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.”) Although this use of “like” can no longer be considered an outright solecism, as it once was, it hasn’t moved far from the borderline of acceptability. It is acceptable casual English; it isn’t yet in the category of unimpeachable English. Next: A Few More Points. For more information about the Language-Change index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “The literary peculiarities of any given period of a language are, for the most part, simply fossilized colloquialisms of an earlier period.” Henry Sweet, The History of Language 74 (1900).
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