Like is one of the most versatile of words, with senses encompassing multiple parts of speech. Here’s a review of its various meanings and uses.
As a verb, like means “enjoy,” “feel affection for,” “regard favorably,” “thrive in,” or “wish to have.” It can also mean “approve” or “prefer.” The noun like refers to preference or something that one likes. In recent years, it has acquired the sense of “an acknowledgment given online in approval of content another person has posted.” The word appears as a noun in idiomatic phrases such as those in “We haven’t seen the likes of him for a long time” (meaning “Someone resembling him hasn’t been seen for a long time”) and “She’s partial to lavender and the like” (meaning “She’s partial to lavender and things that are similar to it”).
As an adjective, like means “possessing the same or similar characteristics or qualities,” as in “They finally admitted that they did not have enough like interests to sustain a relationship.” As a suffix, it has an adjectival function. Treatment depends on what precedes it. Most words with the suffix are closed, with no hyphenation, as in “birdlike movements.” However, if the base word ends with l (“the cell-like room”) or is a proper noun (“a Christ-like bearing”), employ a hyphen.
The adverb like, stands in for approximately or nearly, as in “It was more like a dark orange than a pale red.” When informally referring to measurements, the adverb is sometimes used interjectionally: “It was, like, as long as my arm” or “He seems to come around every few years, like.” Similarly, it is parenthetically employed in conversational English for emphasis (“I was, like, astonished”) or, paradoxically, to suggest an offhandedness (“They were, like, hoping somebody would offer them a ride”). Casually, it can also mean probably, as in “I’ll be there in time, like enough.”
The preposition like means “comparable,” “similar,” or “typical”; that’s the part of speech that is essential in a simile such as “The grass, ruffled by the wind, looked like a rolling wave.” As a conjunction, like means “the same as” or appears in place of “as if” (“She looked like she was about to cry”). Informally, it is employed similarly to the casual adverb to introduce a quotation, paraphrase, or thought (“He’s like ‘Don’t even think about leaving now’”) or, following it’s, to express a widely held opinion (“It’s like, it’s not going to make any difference.”)
As a preposition, like is often considered inferior to or even improper as a substitute for “such as,” but as with some other supposedly undesirable usages, this is acceptable in even formal prose.
The adjective like derives from the Old English term gelic, meaning “similar.” Most of the other parts of speech derived from this usage, but the verb stems from lician, which means “please” or “be pleasing or sufficient”; the connection is perhaps that to be sufficient is to be suitable, which is to be similar.
Words based on the root like include the following:
likely: seeming to be right, suitable, or true, or very probable; also, promising or attractive
likewise: in the same manner
liking: the action or feeling of enjoying a person, place, or thing