Why ‘Like’ is one of the most flexible words in the English language

Why ‘Like’ is one of the most flexible words in the English language

Many English words have multiple definitions. A word with two meanings can be a source of double meaning or lack of communication. And then there is a word like “like”. It may not be the word with the most definitions. that honor goes to “set”, but it is one of the most flexible words in the English language. It is also a word that can make people go crazy, and some people accuse “the youth” of using the word. too. However, it’s hard not to when there are so many uses for “likes”. Mastering this word is an important step in truly understanding English.

So, let’s take a look at the many uses of this word. We will start with some of the simpler forms (the verb form, the comparative form) and move on to some of the more complicated forms in which the “like” materializes.

The uses of “I like” in English

The verb “I like”

The simplest “like” is the verb form, which means “enjoy” or “favor” or “wish” or any other positive feeling that one being may feel for another. It’s kind of a middle ground between feeling neutral towards something and loving something. Although it can also “like” a person, which implies that you have deeper feelings for them. When used in a question, such as “Did Amy like the cake?” – is used to measure a general reaction.

It is a fairly regular verb, with simple conjugations (I like it, you like it, it likes it, etc.) and in the past tense (I always “like it”). It’s an easy way to get into the complex uses of “likes.”

The verb “I like” sometimes also becomes a noun, appearing in sentences like “The cat took a liking for Sam.” The verb has also acquired new meanings in the age of social media, which we will see later.


  • I like horses.
  • He likes to walk in the park.
  • They liked going to the drive-in.
  • We would like the seafood platter.
  • The plant likes to be regulated every other day.
  • Bobby likes Janet.
  • Did you like the show?

The adjective and the adverb “probable”

The word “probable” split off of “I like” in the days of Old norse, which perhaps explains why it is not very well connected to the other “likes” on this list. If something is “probable”, it means that it is something that has a good chance of happening (“It is likely that it will rain”) or that it is credible (“That is a probable story”). There is also the very, very rare use of “probable” to describe something as pleasant (is that tautological?). When you compare the probabilities of various things happening, something can be more likely, more likely, less likely, and less likely. If you mean something is not likely, you also have “unlikely.”


  • She is the likely candidate.
  • Most likely I will leave early.
  • This is likely to be the place we will be moving to next year.
  • Which is more likely the Mets will win the World Series or the pigs will fly?
  • In the unlikely event of an accident at sea, look for a life jacket under your seat.

The comparative “like”

All right, let’s increase the difficulty. Using the word “like”, you can compare two different people, activities, or concepts, implying that they are similar or essentially the same. This is also the “like” you see in similes (say it with me: a simile compares two things using “like” or “like”).

Comparative “likes” can be counted as few parts of the sentence. Often times, it is a preposition: “This house looks like a pigsty.” It could also be used as a conjunction (“Climb the building like a monkey climbs a tree”), an adjective (“They are two minds like”) and, more rarely, a noun (“Dogs, cats and the like are not allowed”) The comparative “I like” can even be used as a suffix, in words like “feline” or “childish.” It is a very versatile word even when it is focused only on the comparative use case, because much of the communication is about explain concepts using other concepts that people already know.


  • It is like a sweet puppy.
  • There is nothing like cold water on a hot day.
  • You need another pair of shoes like I need a hole in my head.
  • How is she?
  • You will never see someone like me again.
  • The robot is so realistic.

The “Like” of social networks

The dawn of social media has given the world a couple of new uses of “likes.” Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and the like all have features that allow you to “like” a post (although this is sometimes called “favorite” or “liking” a post). The “like” of social networks is both a noun (“This photo has a hundred likes”) and a verb (“Did he like your Facebook status?”).


  • How many likes did you get?
  • Oh no, he just liked a photo from three years ago.
  • Please don’t accidentally like anything on my account.

The “Like” of the quotation marks

Another very common use of “I like”, which begins to get into the concept of “kids these days have too many uses for” I like “!” territory – is to introduce quotes in the narrative. While in the past, people may have entered quotes the same way you see them in writing (“So I said, ‘How about not?'”), It is increasingly common for people to trust the “And then he was like, and then I was like “formula”.

As the quote “like” has evolved, it is also used in more cases than simply quoting someone. It can also be used for non-verbal reactions (“And they were like, staring at the ground the whole time”).

Why use “like” in this case? Well, for one thing, it allows you more flexibility in what you are saying. You have probably had a conversation along the lines of the following:

Person 1: And then I said, “Shut up!”
Person 2: No way, did you really say that?
Person 1: Well no, but I rolled my eyes really hard.

The “I like” quote is a way of telling a story and letting the listener know: “This is not exactly how it happened, but this is how I saw it.” This usage can also be overlaid with the “like” fill, which we come to in the next section.


  • He was like, so mad at me.
  • They said, “How are you today?”
  • He said, “Yes,” and I said, “No,” and then we were like, at a dead end.
  • I was like, looking all over the room for my keys.

The “I like” filler

Filler words they are a special kind of vocabulary. They are words like “um”, “uh”, “er” and, as you can probably guess, “I like it”. They are rare when writing, but immensely useful in conversation, because they give you a little extra time to figure out what exactly you want to say. The word “like” is an increasingly common filler word, often associated with California English. In particular, she’s part of the Valley Girls stereotype, a 1980s trope of upper-class white teenage girls in California.

Unlike filler words like “um” and “eh”, “like” can subtly alter the meaning of a sentence. It is a form of coverage what you are saying, based on the meaning of the comparative “I like”. Saying “So, this is the deal” sounds different than saying “So, like, this is the deal”, because the “I like”, similar to the quotation mark “I like”, is a way of communicating, “This may not be 100 percent accurate, but it will be close. ” You don’t always change the sentence, but you can.

Filler words are often maligned, and public speaking classes teach people how to get rid of them to make them sound more professional. Overuse of filler words can make people think you don’t know what you’re talking about. “Like” has become a particular lightning rod for critics, most likely because it is associated with young women, who throughout history have been criticized for their way of speaking.

Even if you accept that the dislike of “likes” is partly rooted in sexism, it is true that the word “like” has appeared more in recent years. This is not just a guess: Google Ngram shows that the word “like” doubled in frequency when comparing books published in 2019 with those published in 1979. If you start paying close attention to all uses of “like,” you will find that the word is ubiquitous.

Instead of letting the word “like” bother you, focus on the positives. There is something surprising about the way the English language allows a single word to be so flexible. With just one syllable, you can do a lot of different things. And that is beautiful.

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