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I know that 'like' can function as a preposition, but I want your views on this statement:

A collection, like old rocks or unique autos, gives a person some individuality.

I think 'like' functions as a preposition, with the prepositional phrase being 'like old rocks', but my professor counted it wrong. Can you tell me if I'm right?

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3 Answers 3

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I have noticed people these days using like instead of such as. Language changes and now like is often used as a preposition, for example in the book Black like me. A Black (Person) such as I would be a impossible title. Using an adjectival phrase such as "who is like me" is even worse as a title.

In the sentence "As I walked to school I saw a cat like the one you own", like is a preposition introducing the adjective phrase the one you own modifying the noun cat.

In my younger days I never heard "like" used as preposition.

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  • I preferred the answer before the slashed edit.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 11 at 3:10
  • @Mari-LouA , Aled Cymro: I rollback-ed the edit. If you prefer the one-line answer ("In my younger days I never heard "like" used as preposition."), then I'd suggest you delete your answer and write a comment under OP's post instead.
    – Justin
    Apr 11 at 4:08
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A collection, like old rocks or unique autos, gives a person some individuality.

Your professor was wrong. "Like" is a preposition in examples like yours where it functions as head of an adjunct, in this case "like old rocks or unique autos".

"Like" can also be an adjective (with "be like" meaning "resemble") where it occurs in predicative complement function, as in "Ed is like his brother".

Note that while the adjective is related to a predicand ("Ed"), the preposition is not and hence it is not interpreted predicatively.

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  • Is the whole prepositional phrase 'like old rocks' or does it continue to autos? Thank you for your help. I will tell her. Mar 16 at 14:06
  • @JamieMcCartney The PP in full is like old rocks or unique autos.
    – BillJ
    Mar 16 at 14:18
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If "like" is a preposition, then "like old rocks or unique autos" is a PP modifying the preceding noun phrase ("a collection"). I would consider that to be incorrect in this sentence on semantic grounds, and I suppose that that is what your professor thinks, too; "a collection" and "old rocks or unique autos" don't really seem to be similar things.

We can replace the PP with an adverbial clause:

A collection, as old rocks or unique autos [[do]], gives a person some individuality.

Now "as" functions as a subordinating conjunction introducing the adverbial clause. The semantics of this sentence are fine; both "a collection" and "old rocks or unique autos" can give a person some individuality.

It is very common to replace the subordinator "as" with "like" (although many prescriptivists deprecate that practice), so your original sentence could be considered correct if you interpreted "like" in that way (i.e., as a subordinator).

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  • "Like" belongs to the adjective and preposition categories, but not to the subordinator category (and nor does "as"). The expression "like old rocks or unique autos" is a PP with the prep "like" as head, functioning as an adjunct, not a modifier in NP structure, i.e. it's not modifying "collection". The PP is not integrated into the structure of the clause but is a supplement (a kind of parenthetical) -- it stands outside the core VP, where it expresses a comparison of equality.
    – BillJ
    Mar 16 at 17:25
  • @BillJ Regarding "like" as a subordinator, I noted that "many prescriptivists deprecate that practice". As for the rest, we've had discussions along these lines before (ad nauseam, actually), and I'm well aware of your positions on these issues. Thank you for the comment. Mar 16 at 17:34
  • You can't just ignore the grammatical fact that like PPs are not restricted to being modifiers in NP structure, but can function freely as adjuncts, either as modifiers in clause structure or as supplements, the latter being the case here. Compare this example from a leading grammar text book: "There were others who ingested strange objects, like live fish", where the like expression is given as a PP functioning as a supplement, just as the like PP is in the OP's example.
    – BillJ
    Mar 16 at 17:58

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