According to the Oxford English Corpus, a collection of more than two billion English texts, ‘like’ is the 54th most frequently used word in the English language. One reason for this is that ‘like’ has so many different meanings, which can be confusing for a non-native speaker. ‘Like’ can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, particle, hedge, conjunction, filler, and quotative. But you don’t need to know what all these words mean to use the word ‘like’ correctly. Here are a few quick tips on how to use this very important word.
As a verb, ‘like’ means to have a fondness for something or to enjoy something. For example, ‘I like my coworkers’, or ‘I like dancing.’ ‘I like my coworkers’ means you think your coworkers are good people. ‘I like dancing’ means that you enjoy dancing. This is probably the most common meaning of the word, but when you are talking with a native English speaker, they will probably use ‘like’ in other ways.
‘Like’ often expresses the idea that something is similar to something else. For example, if you say ‘my new boss is like a monster’ it means your boss is similar to a monster; mean and scary, which probably means that you don’t ‘like’ him very much at all!
We often use the word ‘like’ to ask about the characteristics of something. If your coworker asks you ‘what’s the new boss like?’ He isn’t asking you what the new boss enjoys, he is asking if the new boss is friendly or mean, a good worker or a bad worker, efficient or inefficient, etc. ‘What’s it like?’ is a general question that means ‘tell me something about it, give me some details,’ and we can ask it about almost anything, for example ‘what was your holiday like?’ ‘what is your job like?’ and so on.
There are some ways to use the word ‘like’ that happen in spoken English, but not in writing. For example, sometimes you can use like as a ‘filler word’ instead of the sounds ‘um’ or ‘uh’, when you need a little more time to think of what you want to say. For example: ‘I think…like…we should get Italian for dinner.’
In spoken English, we can also use ‘like’ to replace the word ‘said’ when we are reporting on something that happened. For example, if you want to tell a coworker about a conversation between you and another coworker, you could say: ‘I said we should go to lunch, and he said it was a good idea’ or you could say: ‘I was like ‘we should go to lunch’, and then he was like ‘that’s a good idea.’’ In a similar way, we can also use ‘like’ to replace the word ‘thought.’ For example if you want to tell a coworker about something that happened in your meeting with the boss, you can say: ‘he told me I had to work on Saturday, and I thought ‘that’s ridiculous’’, or you can say: ‘he told me I had to work on Saturday, and I was like ‘that’s ridiculous.’’
As you can see, all the different uses of the word ‘like’ can be a little bit difficult to understand, but hopefully these tips will help you to use this word ‘like’ a native speaker in no time!