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E.g. "Motels do not provide shampoos like hotels" vs "Motels do not provide shampoos unlike hotels".

The "like" used in the first sentence is used in the sense of giving an example that provides shampoos, e.g. hotels, and not meant to show relation to a similar example. Whereas the "unlike" is used in the sense of giving a contrast to "do not provide" thus giving an example that "provides".

Am I getting something wrong here?

  • 'Motels do not provide shampoos like hotels' is probably considered acceptable by most people and means 'Motels do not provide shampoos in the way that hotels [almost invariably] do'. 'Motels do not provide shampoos, unlike hotels (the comma is necessary) means 'Motels do not provide shampoos; this practice is different from that found in [almost all] hotels". Note that 'Motels, unlike hotels, do not provide shampoos' is a valid rearrangement while 'Motels, like hotels, do not provide shampoos' is not. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 14 '18 at 10:57
  • So jsut to clarify, both are acceptable as proper English? – shoryuu Mar 14 '18 at 11:01
  • The use of 'like' as a conjunction (here, = 'in the way that') has already been discussed on ELU. ... Macmillan sense 1c gives an example: << in the same way as usual or as before Why don’t you play with the other children, like you used to? >> With your 'unlike' sentence, I'd re-order and certainly add the comma before 'unlike' (my reordering needs two commas to set off the parenthetical): 'Motels, unlike hotels, do not provide ...'. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 14 '18 at 11:11
  • The most idiomatic way to express the idea is 'Unlike hotels, motels do not provide shampoos'. To say 'like' hotels, in any way, is a clash of concept. because there is a non-dissimilarity. – Nigel J Mar 14 '18 at 13:41
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Yes. There are a lot of comparisons where one can use like and unlike in a way that at a particular point means the opposite thing, but as an entire statement means the same thing.

The difference is in what part the comparison is being made with. When you use like it is comparing the "provide shampoos" and with unlike it is comparing the "do not provide shampoos.

This makes the sentence as a whole ambiguous, though that isn't always a problem as we can often get the meaning from context or prior knowledge (if we know that hotels generally offer shampoos we will only read the statements correctly).

When the ambiguity is a problem it can be removed by rephrasing.

Unlike hotels, motels do not offer shampoos.

Would only be read as suggesting hotels do offer shampoos.

Like hotels, motels do not offer shampoos.

Would only be read as suggesting hotels do not offer shampoos.

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