As Vs Like: What’s The Difference?

As vs like are commonly misused in informal English, but this guide will help you get it right in your formal writing.

Some words in the English language have similar uses, but different meanings. As and like are two of those words. When studying English grammar, you must be able to understand how to use these words properly.

As vs. like seem fairly simple in writing, but they can trip up writers who do not study their uses properly. Here is a closer look at when to use as and when to use like in English writing.

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As vs. Like – Getting It Right

The difference between as vs like

The words like vs as are confusing because both words are comparison words. There are some general rules that can make it easier to choose the right one. 

When to Use Like to Compare Things

When to use like to compare things
Example: The baby looks like his dad

Both like and as are words used to compare things. Typically, like is the correct choice when you are comparing two things, as in:

  • The baby looks like his dad.
  • That noise sounds like a cat outside.
  • She is acting like a child.

These uses follow two basic patterns, either like plus a noun or like near the verb in the sentence. Either way is correct.

When to Use As to Compare Things

As is a bit trickier. You can also use it when comparing two things, but not in a direct comparison. Generally speaking, use as when you could also use “the way” to compare, as in:

  • No one makes fresh bread as my grandmother did. (correct)
  • No one makes fresh bread like my grandmother did. (incorrect for formal writing, though it sounds correct because of informal speech)

In this sentence, you could also say:

  • No one makes fresh bread the way my grandmother did.

Since the phrase “the way” can replace the use of as, as is the correct choice.

As Requires a Clause

When using as to compare things, you need to follow it with a clause. For example, you could say:

  • I like ice cream, as Sarah does.

However, you could not say:

  • I like ice cream, as Sarah.

Without the clause, you would need to use like, as in:

  • I like ice cream, like Sarah.

Other Uses of the Word As

In addition to comparing two items, you can use the word as in other ways. Here are some common, and correct, uses:

As a Connecting Word

As is a conjunction, and thus it is a connecting word. It can mean because, as in these examples:

  • We could not get a tick as we arrived too late and they were sold out.
  • As the light was fading, we could not see the pothole in the road.

As can also mean “while” or “during the time that,” as in these sentences:

  • The phone rang as I put dinner on the stove to cook.
  • As they opened the door, the friends yelled “Surprise!”

Finally, as can mean “in the way that,” as in these sentences:

  • As we thought, our friends arrived late.
  • As you know, Christmas is just a few weeks away.

When Talking about a Job or Function

When you place a word with a noun to talk about a job or function, you will use “as.” Here are some examples:

  • He worked as a banker for a number of years.
  • Her job as a teacher gave her a lot of compassion.

When you are referring to a job and use the word like, you imply that it is a comparison, but not the person's real job. For instance:

  • She works like a secretary. 

This sentence implies that her job is not to be a secretary, but that her responsibilities are similar to a secretary. If she really is a secretary, then you would need to use as.

When Paired with an Adjective

The pattern “as adjective as” is a common usage of the word as in American English. The phrase can come before a subject and verb or before a noun or preposition. Here are some examples:

  • As much as I like sushi, I wasn't in the mood for it. (followed by a subject and verb)
  • She's as clever as a clam. (followed by a noun)
  • He was as prompt as to actually be early sometimes. (followed by a prepositional phrase)

Other Uses of the Word Like 

The word like is almost exclusively used in comparisons. However, it has a few other uses. These include:

When Giving Examples

If you are giving an example of something, you will usually use like. However, it is also appropriate to say “such as.” Here are some example sentences:

  • You could try a new type of art, like drama or music.
  • Put something soft in the dog's crate, such as a blanket or pillow.

Using as by itself is not correct in these sentences.

As a Preposition

In technical terms, like is a preposition that means “similar to.” If you are using a word to start a prepositional phrase, you will use like.

Because of this, like always needs to have a noun or a noun phrase that follows it. The part of the sentence following like should not have a verb.

As a Verb

Like, can also be a verb that means to enjoy, desire, or want something. This use of like is not typically confused with as because as is never a verb. Here are some examples:

  • I like to eat an apple between lunch and dinner.
  • The store likes to have surprise sales on some of its best-selling items.

Examples of Like vs As

To get a better feel for this, take a look at some incorrect examples, and then the sentence correction that makes them right.

  • Considering how much dad had been working, he behaved like I would have expected and slept late. (Incorrect, because like cannot be followed by a conjugated verb)
  • Considering how much dad had been working, he behaved as I would have expected and slept late. (Correct, because as connects the clauses “he behaved” and “I would have expected.”)

Here is another example:

  • She worked hard as the manager before her. (Incorrect, because there is no clause following as.)
  • She worked hard like the manager before her. (Correct because like is followed by a noun and no verb, making it a preposition.)

And one more:

  • The little boy cried like he were in severe pain. (Incorrect, because like should not have a verb in the phrase after it.)
  • The little boy cried as if he were in severe pain. (Correct, because as introduces clauses with subject and verb combinations.)

A Final Word on As vs Like

In informal, spoken English, like and as are used interchangeably. This can make it difficult for writers or students, especially native speakers to choose the correct word in formal writing or on examinations. 

A good rule of thumb to use when trying to determine which of these words to use is to look for a verb. As is the choice if the phase following the word as a verb, and like is the choice if it does not.

Beyond that, the meaning of the sentence plays a role in which word you choose. In comparisons, like is typically the word chosen, but in other uses, as is more common. With practice, you can become skilled at selecting between these two words.

FAQs on As Vs Like

What is the difference between like and as?

In most instances, like is a preposition that introduced a prepositional phrase and compares two similar items. As is a conjunction or connecting word that connects a clause, which has a subject and verb, to the rest of the sentence.

When to use like vs as?

If you are connecting two parts of a sentence and the second part has a subject and verb, you will likely use as. If you are comparing two items but do not have a verb after the word, you will use like.

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