Can I say that something is not like somebody like this:

  • Crying isn’t like you.

What is its meaning?


The sentence means that it is not normal behaviour for someone to be doing. Of course, you have to know what the normal behaviour for that person is from experience to be able to say it.

Gramatically, it seems okay to me. It's in subject-verb form.

"Crying" is the subject, "is" ("to be"; present tense, 3rd person singular) is the verb, "like you" is the subject identifier.

So, "like you" is giving more information about what "Crying" means (negated by "not").

  • Another way to put it: "it's not like you to cry" – BallpointBen May 23 '19 at 22:07
  • normal behavior is slightly normative. – Lambie May 23 '19 at 22:10

It means that crying is not something normal and expected of you. The speaker would not expect you to cry.

Consider that these are all equivalent:

  1. Crying is not like you.
    (-ing clause as subject)
  2. To cry is not like you.
    (infinitive clause as subject)
  3. It is not like you to cry.
    (extraposition of infinitive clause with dummy it as grammatical subject)

It turns out that this is OED sense 1d for the adjective like [paywalled link]:

With pronoun, noun, or noun phrase as complement. Characteristic or typical of; such as one might expect from. Frequently with anticipatory it as subject and followed by a verb (esp. infinitive) phrase.

Often analysed as a preposition: see etymology note.

Admittedly, this is an atypical adjective in that it takes a substantive complement, like worth, which is why these are sometimes analysed as prepositions not as adjectives.


There is an idiom in the question. Here are some more examples I have spontaneously generated to demonstrate the pattern.

  • Crying is not like you.
  • Complaining is not like you.
  • Playing tennis is not like you.
  • Whining is not like you.
  • Throwing out leftovers is not like you.

To not be like someone preceded by an activity using a gerund noun or phrase means:

Doing whatever that thing is (whining, throwing out leftovers, etc.) is not an activity that the speaker of the sentence associates with the person to whom s/he is speaking.

This idiomatic usage is usually used in the negative, though it can be used in a declarative utterance as well. It is often accompanied in the declarative by the adverb so.

  • Well, playing the piece like that is so like her.

  • Riding like that is so like them. [motorcycles, for instance]

  • Criticizing others is very much like him.

  • Please vote to reopen the question. – Mari-Lou A May 24 '19 at 9:14
  • @Mari-LouA Right, done. – Lambie May 24 '19 at 13:22

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