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It seems that "people like you" is almost always used as an insult (similar to "your kind"). e.g. A shop owner might say to an annoying customer that doesn't buy anything, "Go away, I don't have time to deal with people like you."

Can it be used in a polite sentence, or due to the associated negativity with the phrase, would it be better to use an alternate phrase?

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Let us suppose the shopkeeper tells a non-annoying customer, one who appreciates the unique merchandise and service offered, "People like you make me glad to be in this business." That seems plenty friendly to me. –  Brian Donovan Jul 6 at 17:03
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You are right that things like you people and sometimes also these/those people are almost always used pejoratively. –  tchrist Jul 6 at 18:11
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"You are very charismatic, people like you." - That's a polite sentence :) –  gregschlom Jul 6 at 20:36
    
Well, "your ilk" is probably not what you want. On the other hand "you and your kindred spirits" has generally positive connotations. –  dmckee Jul 6 at 20:37
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The phrase is not inherently negative. But it is often used to attribute the actions of an individual to a group (often racism). The context is important, where it is truely offensive there is no nicer way to say it because it is the meaning that offends. Likewise where the meaning is non offensive there is no reason to change the words spoken. –  JamesRyan Jul 7 at 10:40
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8 Answers 8

up vote 27 down vote accepted

Can it be used in a polite sentence, or due to the associated negativity with the phrase, would it be better to use an alternate phrase?

The phrase can be used in a polite way, as determined by context. When saying something positive or favorable to someone, and identifying that person as an example of others who share the same quality, people like you is perfectly polite and even complimentary. So, I may say, "Thank you for your post. People like you, who ask worthwhile, well-phrased questions, make participation in ELU a meaningful experience." Of course, the context in which the phrase is spoken, tone of voice, facial expression, etc., also help to mark the phrase as either positive or negative. The phrase itself, I take to be neutral. Nevertheless, to lessen the possibility of it being taken negatively when not meant so, a positive qualifier can always be added: splendid people like you, excellent people like you, hard-working, thoughtful, generous, etc.

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The key part in GMB's answer is the immediate "who..." after "people like you...": people like GMB who explain things lucidly are always appreciated. –  dpro Jul 7 at 8:02
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@ dpro --How nice of you. Thanks. –  GMB Jul 7 at 14:35
    
I partially agree with GMB here, but there is enough of a chance the phrase could be taken negatively, that a careful addition of some qualifying words are a good idea. –  TecBrat Jul 8 at 13:37
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The difficulty with the phrase is the distinguishing attribute - you. This smacks of emphasis on the otherness of the party addressed and those deemed to be similar. It creates a linguistic and emotional distance.

There are numerous examples of phrases that have a similar rejecting tone. The OP indicated your kind. Also, the phrases your type, your ilk and you people. Most importantly, you are not our kind, our people or folks like us.

If you are trying to convey a categorization that is neutral (or even complimentary), you generally need to add something beyond the you-ness. Consider

  • people having your characteristics
  • those sharing your background (or skills/talents/fine qualities)
  • your fellow _____ (which can be kind or caustic, largely based on tone)

While context might make some of the you phrases acceptable or even friendly, more often than not they are intended, and will be taken to be somewhat hostile.

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If the doorman (bouncer) at a nightclub says to two consecutive parties...

1: "People such as yourself/yourselves1 should go through that entrance"
2: "People like you should go through that entrance"

...you can assume the first, rather than the second, was being directed to the VIP entrance.

1 yourself if addressed to a "party of one".

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I can't imagine a bouncer saying "people such as yourselves"... more like "this way mate" –  Lightness Races in Orbit Jul 7 at 10:21
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@Lightness: Sometime they can be (superficially) almost obsequiously polite when ordering you around, especially at the more upmarket velvet-rope venues. –  FumbleFingers Jul 7 at 11:51
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You need to dress it up in kind of faux, grossly over generous compliment.

"Other esteemed members of society such as yourself"

"Men of healthy proportions like your good self"

You need to use a gratuitous, somewhat ironic compliment in order to compensate for the implied negativity of highlighting someone as a member of a group, unless such a highlight would be a compliment in and of itself:

"Are there any other people like you capable of doing this job?"

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I'm with Brian Donovan (comment above) - the phrase is already neutral. eg: It's people like you who make this job worth doing or The world needs more people like you.

If you really want a variant, use a term that is a bit more specific: eg:

Teachers live for students like you, who show a real interest.

This dog/car/house was waiting for someone like you.

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Using a less-common synonym will usually avoid the unwanted connotation.

In this case, I prefer "such as" to "like".

"People like you" ==> "People such as you".

Replacing "People" with "Folks", "Citizens", "Men", "Women", "Kids", and other more-specific nouns will also work.

You can also try:

  • "People like you, for instance"
  • "People like yourself"
  • "People such as yourself"
  • "There are people -- you, for example ..."
  • And the versions with "folks" instead of "people"

Phrases with strong, pre-existing, and shared emotional connotations become clichés. Creativity in your language use will let you make stronger statements with less chance of falling into clichés.

But there's one catch: avoid getting too wordy or obscure when using alternatives. Even my own may be poor choices for different uses.

(My answer overlaps with several previous ones; I gratefully acknowledge their efforts.)

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My favourite example of excessive wordiness as an alternative to "People such as yourself ..." was "Other individuals of your socio-economic background, with overlapping educational context and general weltanschauung ..." I think that 98% of the audience had lost it at that point either because they didn't understand or because they did. –  Steve Barnes Jul 9 at 18:55
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Your contemporaries:

contemporary noun plural noun: contemporaries: a person or thing living or existing at the same time as another. "he was a contemporary of Darwin" synonyms: peer, fellow; More a person of roughly the same age as another.

I've rarely heard it used in negative contexts and is very often used to describe academics or artists.

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Unattributed citations are considered plagiarism; attributed ones, research. We encourage research but delete plagiarism on sight. Do please do the right thing here. However, a barebones dictionary citation, even attributed, is seldom a good answer. It needs some further text elaborating your take on it and how it relates to the question at hand. We’re looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don’t just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed. –  tchrist Jul 6 at 21:57
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This is not actually an attribution, just a link. Please clearly name in plain text the origin of the cited definition. Please do not rely on hovery-covery, which is not even supported in all interfaces (think: cell phablets and the like). –  tchrist Jul 6 at 22:04
    
I don't know the attribution. I googled it to get a definition and google doesn't tell me where they got it from. –  Daniel Jul 6 at 22:07
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Google seems to have gotten it verbatim from Oxford Dictionaries‌​. Rather than edit the answer, I decided to post a comment, since this is my first post here in english.stackexchange.com. –  Peter V. Mørch Jul 7 at 0:36
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This answer only works if the category of "people like you" is "everyone in the world who is alive at the same time as you." I suspect that, under most circumstances, that's a bit broader than what the OP wants. –  user867 Jul 7 at 1:48
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Your peers.

(The bouncer will love this.)

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