The Grammarphobia Blog

Like it or not

Q: Do you think “as,” “as if,” and “as though” are completely lost in favor of “like”?

A: No, at least not yet, but the ground is shifting. In casual conversation, “like” is gaining on “as” and its cousins “as if” and “as though.”

In more formal writing and speeches, however, the rule is still that “as” should introduce a clause – a group of words with both a subject and a verb.

Here’s an example from my grammar book Woe Is I: “Homer tripped, as anyone would.” If no verb follows, “like” is correct: “Homer walks like a duck.”

As for “as if” and “as though,” their job is generally to introduce clauses that are hypothetical or contrary to fact: “She eats chocolate as if it’s going out of style.” I’m sometimes asked if there’s any difference between them. The answer is no.

I’m also asked if “as though” has gone the way of the dinosaurs. Not at all, though it may be a bit more literary sounding than “as if.” Centuries ago, “if” was a lesser meaning of “though,” a now-obscure usage that survives in “as though.”

Getting back to “as” vs. “like,” when you want to be grammatically correct, just think of the old cigarette ad (“Winston tastes good like a cigarette should”) and do the opposite. But on more relaxed occasions, it’s OK to join the crowd and do as you like.

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