Why would a good manThis week’s topic explores the proper use of “like” versus “such as.” While we love to pepper our sentences with this classic crutch word, grammatically speaking, there is a very specific time and place for like.

For those about to take the GMAT, this little tidbit will help you get at least one question right. The technical use of the word “like” should be used for comparison, NOT for examples. An example should be introduced by “such as.”

Example: Cathy plays several musical instruments such as the flute, the piano, and the kazoo.

In this example, I’m telling you specific examples of instruments I play. Technically, if I said I played instruments like the flute, the piano and the kazoo, you could speculate as to what type of instrument is “like” a flute (pan flute, recorder, tin whistle), a piano, and a kazoo.

Outside of the GMAT world, though, the big grammatical sticking point is becoming all but obsolete. Follett said in Modern American Usage (1966) that “such as” leads the mind “to imagine an indefinite group of objects” while “like” suggests “a closer resemblance among things compared.”

In layman’s terms, test-takers should remember this:

  • Use “like” when emphasizing similar characteristics.
  • Use “such as” when introducing examples.

For the rest of us in the English-speaking world, there isn’t much distinction between using “like” and “such as” in a casual setting. Therefore, consider the context and if a more formal tone is needed, and you need to show an example of how the shoe fits, use “such as.” Otherwise, I don’t think you’ll confuse or offend anyone if you continue to use “like.”

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at [email protected].