“Like” Serves Nouns and Pronouns, Not Verbs
Like is associated with various uncouth usages — “They were, like, all over the place”; “I was, like, ‘Really?’” — common in speech but easily avoided (except for comic effect) in writing, but many people are unaware that another widespread usage is considered improper in formal writing.
As a preposition meaning “similar to,” like is associated with nouns (“She entered the room like an empress”) and pronouns (“I don’t know anyone like him”). However, when the word connects one clause (a segment of a sentence that includes a subject and a verb) to another, it impersonates a conjunction: “He started dancing like his pants were on fire”; “I arranged the furniture like it had appeared before.”
Note, though, that this usage, though ubiquitous in conversation and in informal writing, is not considered acceptable in formal writing; like should be replaced, respectively, by “as if” (He started dancing as if his pants were on fire”) or as: (“I arranged the furniture as it had appeared before”). Replacing as with “the way” is also acceptable: “I arranged the furniture the way it had appeared before.”
(But beware of hypercorrection; as is erroneous when, with the same intent, it precedes a noun: “She entered the room as an empress” means that the subject literally became, rather than merely resembled, royalty. But “She entered the room as an empress would” is correct, because the emphasis is then on the subject’s action, not on the type of person the subject is compared to.)
In the case of a sentence such as “Like many first-time visitors do, I stared, dumbstruck, at the vista before me,” either change like to as (“As many first-time visitors do, I stared, dumbstruck, at the vista before me”) or delete the verb at the end of the introductory phrase (“Like many first-time visitors, I stared, dumbstruck, at the vista before me”).
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