April 2, 2015

How to Use the Word “Like” in English

2 minute read

“Like” is one of the most commonly used words in English – and when you’re new to learning the language, it can be a bit of a confusing one, as it has so many different meanings!

In fact – did you know that there are actually five different ways to use the word “like”? Phew! Sounds like hard work.

You might hear it a lot in everyday spoken English – especially as it has become very popular to use colloquially. But if you’re not sure on how to use this word correctly, then read on to find out.

Like – to enjoy

One of the most common ways that you’ll hear the word “like” is as a verb – “to like”.

This is a verb used to express the fact that you enjoy something, and it can be used just like many other verbs in English.

For example: “I like walking to work, but she liked to drive instead.”

Nice and simple!

Would like – to request something

“Like” can also be used as an alternative to the verb, “to want”, in a form that is considered less aggressive and demanding, and more polite. You would use the word with the modal verb, “would”, and you always need to use the full phrase “would like”.

For example: “She would like to place her order now.”

Be like – to describe the characteristics of something

This is when the uses of “like” start to get a bit more complex. In this use, the word is used to describe the personality, character or particular traits of something.

In this case it is used with the verb “to be”. If you are using it in the past tense, only the main part of the verb “to be” is changed, and the word “like” stays the same.

For example: “What was he really like?”

Like – as a simile

Developing from the previous use of the word, “like” is often used as a simile – or a comparison with something else, in order to describe something.

Sounds confusing? Let’s take a look at an example!

“The bedroom was like a disaster zone.”

In a simile, you still need to use the verb “to be” with the word “like”, but instead of describing the actual characteristics, you can use something else – which might be drastically different.

For example: “She was nervous and shaky, like a mouse.”

This is a great way of adding a bit more personality into your spoken English, but you would not use similes very often in written English, unless you are writing creatively.

Look like – describing appearances

The last common use of the word “like” is to describe experiences. This is done through the verb “to look like”. You can use this just as in the previous examples when you used the form “to be like”. In this case, the part of the phrase that changes according to tense and subject is “look”, while the word “like” stays the same.

For example: “I look like a really messy person, while she looks like a celebrity!”

Your turn

Understanding how the word “like” is used in different contexts and forms is a really helpful way to build on your English skills – make sure you practice each of the five uses as much as you can!