English language Uncategorized

Does Homer walk like a duck?

Q: As a former newspaper editor, I can’t help noticing when English goes astray, which brings me to the Woe Is I Jr. page on your website. Is the following sentence correct? “Just like Woe Is I, her national bestseller for adults, the junior version uses simple language and entertaining examples to make good English fun.” It seems to me there should be an “as,” not a “like,” construction here.

A: That bit of promotion on our website is, I’m glad to say, perfectly good English.

First, let’s simplify the sentence somewhat: “Like book X, book Y uses simple language.” (Or, rephrased: “Book Y, like book X, uses simple language” … “Book Y uses simple language, like book X.”)

Here “like” is being used not as a conjunction but as a preposition meaning “in the same way as” or “in the manner of.” This kind of construction is recognized as standard English. (See the entries for “like” in both The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed., and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.)

The phrase “like book X” is considered an elliptical clause of comparison, minus a verb. If a verb were included, you could legitimately choose the conjunction “as” and write “as book X does.”

The grammarian George O. Curme has this to say in A Grammar of the English Language. Vol. II: Syntax: “The clause of comparison is often elliptical. … Where there is no finite verb expressed or understood, and there is present a noun or pronoun, like is not opposed by grammarians; it is indeed the usual form even in the best literary style, here felt as a preposition, forming with its object a prepositional phrase: ‘He treats his wife like a child.’ ‘His coat fits him like a glove.’ ‘He laughs like her.’ “

I hope this clarifies things a bit. In general, especially in more formal writing and speeches, “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.” I discussed this once before in a posting to the blog.

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