I am reading "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing (Quick & Dirty Tips)" by Mignon Fogarty. The author explains the difference between like (a preposition) and as (a conjunction), and her rule of thumb is, when there is a verb after it, it's a conjunction.

Then she gives these examples of prepositions:

  1. Squiggly throws like a raccoon.
  2. It acted just like my computer.

In both of these sentences, isn't there an implied verb? ("throws like a raccoon does," "acted just like my computer does")

In which case, is making the verb implicit enough to change the role of like from conjunction to preposition?

  • 2
    the implied verb would be 'throws' and 'acts' respectively. – user180089 Jul 8 '16 at 20:04
  • 1
    Note that as is also a preposition: “as a child, he was often ill”, “she works as a chef”, etc. Fogarty doesn’t mention that at all. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 8 '16 at 20:37
  • ...and "like" can serve as any one of 7 parts of speech. – Cascabel Jul 8 '16 at 21:21

No, there isn't an implied verb. Rather, you're inferring a verb by imposing the conjunctive definition of "like" rather than the prepositional definition. As a preposition, "like" means: in like manner with; similarly to; in the manner characteristic of. Therefore, rather than inferring a "does" at the end of the two sentences you cite, you should interpret them as follows:

  1. Squiggly throws similarly to a raccoon.

  2. It acted just in the manner characteristic of my computer.

If you read them understanding that "like" is functioning as a preposition and apply its definition as a preposition, you'll see there's no room for your inferred "does" at the end of the sentence.

  • I'd say that since "similarly" is an adverb, it modifies "throws" and the omitted (or "implied") verb. I feel like a better construction would be "Squiggly throws similarly to how a raccoon throws/does," in which case the verb can't be omitted. – vpn Jul 8 '16 at 21:11
  • @vanderpn - I merely used the verbatim definitions the dictionary provided to get the point across. However, know that prepositional phrases are modifiers. They're modifying phrases. In this case, the prepositional phrase is adverbial, so you're right about that. It doesn't imply a verb after "raccoon," though. You're reading into it. – Benjamin Harman Jul 9 '16 at 1:26

I think it's appropriate to think of like as a preposition, but grammar girl's advice for recognizing a conjunction is a too quick and too dirty. As has several senses, and is only a conjunction in some. You are probably best off simply learning all of the main constructions that have as in them, and abandon any hopes of pinning down a "part of speech" for the word itself.

Consider buying Huddleston and Pullum's Student's Introduction to English grammar, which is close to the same price for clean, slow advice.

A conjunction is a word that joins two elements together. For example, and in the following sentence joins clauses C1 and C2 together.

[Thomas ran to the store]C1 and [Carmen followed him]C2

As is a subordinating conjunction, which means that the clause that follows it depends on (or is syntactically part of) the clause that it is joined to. In the following example, that joins the matrix clause (C1) and its subordinate clause (C2).

[Thomas said that [I'd never learn to read]C2 ]C1.

But conjunctions can also join together elements other than claues. In the following, the conjunction but joins two verb phrases (V1 and V2).

Thomas [was running to the store]V1 but [slipped and fell]V2.

Note that grammar girl's advice will help you to correctly diagnose but as a conjunction when two verb phrases are joined by it, but is bad advice when looking at conjoined clauses or noun phrases, or prepositional phrases...

As can have different properties when used in different constructions. It can introduce a standard of comparison, in which case it acts first a special word introducing an adjectival phrase, and second as a preposition (and not a conjunction in either case).

[Thomas can run as fast [as a wallaby]].

It can serve as a subordinating conjunction, introducing a matrix event. Note here it joins two clauses, and so grammar girl's advice will not help you to realize that it's a conjunction.

[Thomas loads his gun [as Carmen looks on]].

Here's a case where as does precede a verb phrase (an as many/much... as construction):

As many chickens were killed that day as [passed through the gate].

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