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What's the difference between these two sentences:

"He treated his children like an officer treats his soldiers"

"He treated his children the way an officer treats his soldiers"

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3 Answers 3

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Using the way describes the more concrete and specific chain of events in the process of treatment. If you say that someone treats their children the way an officer treats his soldiers, you're basically saying the whole process is the same.

Using like means that they behave towards their children as if they were soldiers, but don't necessarily force them to go through the same routine as soldiers do.

Imagine and compare the following:

My father treats me like a child, although I'm not a child anymore.

This means he imagines I'm still a child and behaves as if I were one towards me, but that doesn't necessarily say what exactly he makes me do.

My mother is happy with how she raised my older brother, so she treats me the way she treated him.

This means she makes me go through my childhood exactly the same way she did with my older brother, as she's satisfied with how he's been raised.

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Aaaah! I understand now. Thank you! –  brilliant Jul 9 '12 at 14:31

"Like" here is used as an informal "as."

In short,

He treated his children as an officer treats his soldiers.

He treated his children (in) the (same) way (as) an officer treats his soldiers.

He treated his children like an officer treats his soldiers. (informal spoken English)

All the sentences above are correct.

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...however using "like" in this context with the verb "to treat" can cause a reader to do a double-take, because "to treat [something] like [something else]" is a very common construction. –  Tolerance72 Jul 9 '12 at 15:21
    
@Tolerance72 - So, how would you say it then? –  brilliant Jul 9 '12 at 19:27
    
Hard to say without more context to set the voice, but given this one sentence in isolation, I would choose "...the way..." –  Tolerance72 Jul 10 '12 at 20:12

I believe there is a huge difference between those sentences. It is by no means a minor matter of degree or style.

The one with like is a simile. In a simile, the constituent (subject, object or whatever) in the complement is a newly introduced notion. In She can really sing like a rock star. and He hugged her so hard like there was no tomorrow., she and rock star are two different persons, and just the same are the so hard-manner and the there is no tomorrow-manner different manners. They are different, but they're similar. Ergo, "simile".

The one with "the way" newly introduces only the manner of the action performed by a subject and on an object, both of which are identical with those in the main part of the sentence. The sentence conveys that he factually is an officer, and that his children factually do amount to being his soldiers. The soliders part may be an irrational perspective, but it is the perspective of the speaker, whether one fancies his perspective or not.

So, what the first sentence talks about is merely one regrettable situation, though some won't even go that far, and will reason that "the bread and the rod came from Heaven." (Damn them to Hell, sayeth I.) On the other hand, the second sentence, although it describes the same situation, also says something very alarming about the interlocutor! He's actually saying: Attaboy, that's my man. That's how a good officer, and I hold you very high in that regard, treats his army, and what other are kids for than to serve as a man's personal army, right?

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