Advanced Business Writing
Rules and Usage


Comparing things, comparing actions

Question: When making comparisons, when should we use like and when should we use as?

Answer: Use like when comparing nouns or things.

Thing A is like thing B.

Answer: Use as when comparing verbs or actions.

A does as B does.

General Guidelines:

(1) When the comparison phrase (usually found on the right-hand side of the sentence) has no verb, use like.

(2) When the comparison phrase has a verb, or is mostly about an action, use as.

Examples to learn from:

Bob looks like his father.
[no verb on the right]

Bob looks as his father looked at the same age.
[verb on the right: looked]

Bob looks as his father did at the same age.
[verb: did]

or: Bob looks the way his father did at the same age.

We need to find another worker like her.
[no verb]

Lin, like her predecessor, was a skilled designer.
[no verb in the comparison phrase]

She arrived early, as she always does.
[verb: does]

As I said earlier, they have not yet submitted an order.
[verb: said]

It looks like snow.
[no verb]

It looks as if it will snow.
[verb: will snow]

Please understand, you will hear incorrect grammar all the time in movies, such as: "It looks like it will snow." But if you want to be treated as a professional is treated, you should write using correct grammar.

Need a memory aid? Watch the movie Forrest Gump, and hear his mother's proper comparisons:

Life is like a box of chocolates.

Stupid is as stupid does.

Suggesting exemplars, listing examples

Many native English speakers think that like and such as mean the same thing. They are incorrect. There is a difference, and it can matter.

Celebrities like Sally Field and Tom Hanks were invited.

Celebrities, such as Sally Field and Tom Hanks, were invited.

The first sentence could be rewritten:

Celebrities who are as famous as Sally Field and Tom Hanks were invited.

When you use like, you are suggesting a similarity to a class of things, which excludes things that are not in that class. Strictly speaking, celebrities who are not as famous were probably not invited.

The second sentence could be rewritten:

Celebrities, including Sally Field and Tom Hanks, were invited.

When you use such as, you are listing specific examples. Celebrities of any rank could have been invited.

It's a subtle distinction, which helps explain why many educated, native English speakers make this mistake.

Displaying ignorance

In North America, the word like is too often a signal of laziness and ignorance: "I was like, yeah! And she was like, ugh!" Don't do that.

Speaking of ignorant usage, consider the following sentence:

The nurse arrived and said as how the symptoms were the same as last time.

If you use the phrase as how as a substitute for the word that, you are not using standard English. Try not to do that in your writing at work.

Lesson: As/Like
Module: Rules and Usage
Course: Advanced Business Writing