In recent times I have encountered the phrase ‘I was like…’ a lot. Examples include

  • He told me something, and I was like dude really?
  • I was going along the street, and suddenly something happened, and I was like WTF!

Is this a correct form of English? If not what do you think is a more refined way of conveying the same meaning and feeling.

  • Do you mean "I was like" in the informal use where "to be like" is followed by response or thought or feeling in quote form, as is: "He told me he was working late, and I was like 'You'd better not be lying to me'"? Or do you mean it in the more literal sense. Usually [someone said something] "and I was like 'XYZ'", usually it means the person responded with 'XYZ', or thought it, or felt it, or many other possible things. It's not a literal use. "He said I could have them for $20, and I'm like 'No way!'". – Zebrafish Mar 3 '19 at 8:54
  • @Zebrafish I could not understand the difference between the 2 examples, both seems the same to me.... – DuttaA Mar 3 '19 at 8:56
  • @Zebrafish the 1st one...i meant the 1st one...although i feel the 2nd one can also be somewhat brought in to he same category, but yes i meant the 1st one. – DuttaA Mar 3 '19 at 8:58
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    The standard meaning of "to be like", as in "I was like" means "I was similar to something", at least in formal register. In informal speech "to be like", especially from what I gather from your quotes, has a very different meaning. It can simply mean "I said", or "I thought". Providing more complete examples would be better. – Zebrafish Mar 3 '19 at 9:00
  • @Zebrafish I added 2 examples...check if they are satisfactory, I am a non native speaker so my grammar may not be on point. – DuttaA Mar 3 '19 at 9:03

I was going along the street, and suddenly something happened, and I was like WTF!

It could mean, "I was going along the street, and suddenly something happened, and I said WTF!"

However, usually the person did not say those precise words. "I was like ..." is more a way of relating a reaction or even an emotion.

So it could mean, "I was going along the street, and suddenly something happened, and I thought/felt WTF!"

He told me something, and I was like dude really?

This translates as, "He told me something, and my reaction was 'dude really?'

Sometimes it could refer to verbatim speech but usually if someone wants to relay the exact words they spoke, it will go as follows:

'He told me something, and I actually said to him, "Dude really?"'

This emphasises a precise memory of what was said.

The expression is very informal and would not be expected in a business meeting or similar.

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  • Yes..so I was looking for the formal words to replace it...in the 2nd example, my reaction was , means showing an explicit reaction which might not be the case...it is more of a mental reaction scenario in the brain. – DuttaA Mar 3 '19 at 9:37

colloq. (orig. U.S.). to be like: EOD

used to report (actual or simulated) direct speech (often expressing a person's feelings); to say, utter; (also) to say to oneself

As in:

2008 Daily Tel. (Sydney, Austral.) (State ed.) (Nexis) 7 June (Sport section) 88 When it came to the contract he cut it back a quarter, so I'm like, whatever, it's still more than what I was asking for.

Your two example sentences are grammatically correct. Some would choose additional punctuation.

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It seems to be a substitute for 'I said...[or words to that effect]'.


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Now that we've settled which use you're referring to, we can say what these expressions can mean. So usually in informal speech and among certain demographics and regions "to be like" can mean "to say", "to respond", "to think", "to feel", and probably many other things.

"to be like" when used in this way I'm pretty sure is always followed by direct speech, even though nothing may have been said.

  • He told me something, and I said there was no way that was true.
  • He told me something, and I'm like "No way that's true!"
  • He told me something, and I was like "No way that's true!"

Notice when you use this you use direct speech as opposed to indirect speech (reported speech). The difference being:

  • Direct speech:
    He said "I'm not going to the party."
  • Indirect speech:
    He said that he wasn't going to the party.

Often it means something like "I/he/she/etc said", but that's not the only thing it can be. Take the following example:

  • I forgot to bring my umbrella for the first time and it started pouring, and I was like "You've got to be kidding me!"

Here "You've got to be kidding me" isn't spoken, but most likely a thought or feeling, although it's possible the person verbalized it, maybe screaming out in rage. It's not exactly possible to know all the time.

He told me something, and I was like dude really?

This can mean many things. Something is told to the recipient, and the recipient either responded with the exact words "Dude, really?", or something along the lines of "are you really serious?". In addition it's not necessary that the recipient actually says anything. "... and I was like dude really?" can just be an expression of a thought the person was having. More often than not it usually means it's a verbal response, but again, we don't know exactly, without the context, whether the actual words "dude really?" were uttered.

I was going along the street, and suddenly something happened, and I was like WTF!

In this example it's much more likely that nothing is actually verbalized, and further, that we can't tell whether a person was thinking "WTF!" or "What's going on here?" or "What the hell is happening?" or "I'm confused" (It's kind of hard to know what words are going through a person's mind).

So again, the direct speech that's mentioned after "to be like" may be the actual words spoken, or not, or maybe no words were spoken at all.

An example:

  • I offered him $20 for the item and he was like "No way!".

We don't exactly know whether he said "No way!" or something else such as "I'm sorry, I'll have to decline that offer" or something similar. In addition it's possible after having made the offer the person didn't say anything, but just turned their back and walked away. In this case the "No way!" is the storyteller's way of saying that the person refused the offer. It's not exactly possible to know what was spoken, if anything, in many cases.

This usage is very normal, but informal.

I know this might sound complicated, and I'm sure there are extra nuances and things I got wrong, but that's the gist.

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  • You have summarised it nicely....but are there any solid formal alternatives..this seems like more of an informal American English thing whereas I am looking for a refined British version... – DuttaA Mar 3 '19 at 9:42
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    @DuttaA Of course there are alternatives. If you want to avoid it, first find out exactly what the direct speech part is, whether it's a response or something else. Then use a verb either to introduce it, or rewrite it completely. Eg., "I was walking and saw something weird, and was totally surprised/confused." "He told me something, and I answered/said "Dude, really?" Or he told me something and I had to confirm what he said because I couldn't believe what I was hearing. – Zebrafish Mar 3 '19 at 9:50

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