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In the sentence "I was like whatever", what is actually going on under the hood? "I" is presumably a pronoun, but what about the "was", the "like" and the "whatever"? Is the "was" on its own a verb? In which case what is the "like"? Or is "was like" as a whole a verb?

You might not like this, but that is a different matter. There is some discussion about that here. Also, there is a discussion of its history here. And I see from The Boston Globe that this usage is called the "quotative like", but it still doesn't explain what is actually happening grammatically.

  • I'm not sure grammar could help here & now. I smiled when I read your question because often such expressions are in use for the simple reason we like them (I do 4 this one). Then, afterward, grammarians find us an answer ; I understand they haven't done yet ! – DAVE Mar 12 '16 at 10:27
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    Probably the sentence would be better written as, "I was like, 'Whatever.'" – Jim Mar 13 '16 at 5:12
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I'm not a grammarian, but here's my take on "I was like whatever"

I - pronoun

Used to refer to oneself as speaker or writer.

was like - comes from the idiomatic phrase "be like"

be like - informal

To say or utter. Used chiefly in oral narration: "And he's like, "Leave me alone!"

Some linguists do call this "quotative like", though it's not a well-defined thing so far. Here's a long article by Prof. Dr. Isabelle Buchstaller, a variationist sociolinguist.

"And I’m Like, Read This!" article by Jessica Love.

The general consensus is that the quotative like encourages a speaker to embody the participants in a conversation. Thus, the speaker vocalizes the contents of participants’ utterances, but also her attitudes toward those utterances. She can dramatize multiple viewpoints, one after another, making it perfectly clear all the while which views she sympathizes with and which she does not. Hear yourself say these sentences aloud: I walked up to Randy and he was like, Why are you late? I was like, Because you gave me the wrong time! You have, in addition to relaying the he-says she-says bones of a conversation, probably betrayed some moral indignation. Randy was unreasonable, and you were in the right. It’s possible to do all this with says, of course, but not nearly as naturally.

The quotative like is often followed by filler words like well or dude, as in He was like, Dude, get your act together. Much like a mask or good make-up or the right dialect coaching, these fillers further distinguish the current speaker from the person (or earlier self) being quoted. They give the performance a bit of flair. (And make no mistake: far from indicating laziness, the quotative like can inspire some great performances.)

whatever - interjection informal

Used to indicate indifference to or scorn for something, such as a remark or suggestion: We're having pizza tonight.— "Whatever. I don't care."

  • Thank you very much for that. I'm not a linguist, it's going to take a while to understand Prof. Dr. Isabelle Buchstaller's article. – Matthew Taylor Mar 13 '16 at 8:07

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