I'm trying to figure out how the sentence "My hands are shaking like crazy," breaks down into lexical categories. I know "like" can function as a preposition, meaning "similar to", but I'm not sure if "like" can be a preposition since I don't think "crazy" is a noun/object in this sentence, and from what I know, PP's require noun phrases as a sub-categorization rule in syntax.

I would say "crazy" is an adverb since it seems to be modifying "shaking", but that leaves me clueless as to how like functions in the sentence.

Please explain the different parts of speech for "like" and "crazy" in this sentence.

Thank you!

  • So interesting. (I love informal English and all forms of dialect!)
    – DukeZhou
    Jun 29, 2017 at 16:50
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    Taken collectively, like crazy is an "intensifier". I wondered what the full OED would make of the similar (BrE?) expression like billyo, so I looked it up. Intriguingly, OED says billyo is a "noun", but I really can't imagine what kind of "thing" it refers to (it virtually never occurs except in that "compound intensifier" context). Jun 29, 2017 at 17:01
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    Like crazy is an idiomatic fixed phrase, and therefore its parts no longer have individual lexical categories because they've been reified. It's pointless to argue how to label non-terminal nodes; you can have as many angels dancing on them as you like. Jun 29, 2017 at 18:22
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    ... Crystallised into a single lexeme. Jun 29, 2017 at 18:32
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    @FumbleFingers, you are probably familiar with shaking hands, aren't you? :P Jun 30, 2017 at 1:21

2 Answers 2


Like crazy is an idiom and should be treated as a single word; an adverb describing how my hands were shaking.


Prepositions can sometimes take adjectives as complements; see the following question: "Far from happy" Preposition followed by an adjective?

I would say that "like" has the same function here as it does when followed by a noun phrase in a sentence like "My hands were shaking like the dickens" or "My hands were shaking like hell".

Like can be classified as a preposition (as you mention): historically, it's derived from an adjective, and "traditional" grammarians categorized it as an adjective when it modified a noun and as an adverb when it modified a verb. Whatever you call it, I would say that crazy functions as the complement of like in this sentence. But as John Lawler said in a comment, "like crazy" is established as a fixed expression.

I don't think that you can necessarily use any adjective in this position. A similar example I thought of is "like mad". Using the Google Ngram Viewer, I found that some people use "like wild", although it is less common:

There he was, running like wild, chasing after us.

(Contagious and Deathly Contagious, by Emily Goodwin, Chapter 12)

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