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"Much as they had done with her..."

"Much like they had done with her..."

I was told that the use of "much like" in the second sentence is grammatically wrong. Any explanation is greatly appreciated.

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  • I was wondering if I could have a more pedantic answer to the OP's question? The previous answer seems good, but I am having trouble with understanding some of the subtleties.
    – user194901
    Sep 5, 2016 at 20:08

1 Answer 1

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"Much AS they had done with her". Traditionally, "as" and "much as" compare verbals (and qualities) whereas "like" and "much like" compare nouns. That is, "as" acts as an adverb, and "like" is much like a preposition. However, this distinction continues to erode over time. I remember when there was debate over the cigarette ad: "Lucky Strike tastes good—like a cigarette should!" ("like" modifying "tastes" makes it adverbial, so some insisted it should have been "as".) But decades of such usage have made it commonplace. And to some people, that means the usage is "acceptable". Whether it is correct (a concept that is now out of favor; let's say "equally acceptable", ) depends on your audience.

Still, some writers distinguish between comparisons of things and comparisons of actions or qualities: - (1) Crackers are much like bread. - (2) Crackers are baked, much as bread is. You might be tempted to put "like" in (2), but I don't think it would work to put "as" in (1).

And there are some other distinctions. Consider - He is acting as a manager. - He is acting like a fool.

In these and many other cases, "as" and "like" are not interchangeable, they are used differently with different meanings. The below simply would not work with "like": - Much as he wanted to, he couldn't go. - As ye sow, so shall ye reap".

But sometimes it's hard to tell whether "like" is being used adverbally or not. The following line from a song (by Barenaked Ladies) illustrates:

  • "Much like pheromones to flies, you will not avoid my eyes..."

Or suppose you wrote "Much like yesterday, it will rain today." (is "like" modifying "yesterday", a noun, or modifying "will rain", a verb?) So sometimes it's obvious whether "like" or "as" is more appropriate, and sometimes it's not.

Lastly, a real conundrum: "Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies prefer bananas." (That's a double-entendre that illustrates the problems that might occur if you always substitute "like" for "as".)

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  • +1. And as an interesting side-note, like:as::unlike:unlike. There's no "unas".
    – ruakh
    Aug 2, 2017 at 6:10
  • It was Winston, not Lucky Strike.
    – Xanne
    Sep 14, 2020 at 6:47

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