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Oct 30 2013

Like Versus Such As

Like vs Such AsIdioms are one grammatical component of GMAT sentence correction problems. Furthermore, the GMAT tests meaning, part of which is appropriate word choice. One issue that the GMAT has previously tested is the usage of like versus such as. When giving an example, we should use such as: John collects pictures of sports cars made by companies such as Lamborghini and Maserati. When indicating similarity, we should use like: A giraffe’s neck is like that of a brachiosaurus.

Difference Between Like and Such As

Although like has come to be used synonymously with such as in common usage, there is an important distinction that is too often overlooked. In particular, like implies similarity but exclusion whereas such as implies inclusion. Using like is appropriate only if the action pertains to nouns similar to our referenced noun but specifically excludes the referenced noun. As an example: Movies today often feature heroic actors like John Wayne. This usage is correct because movies today feature actors similar to John Wayne, but do not feature John Wayne himself. On the other hand, we could say: Movies today often feature heroic actors such as Brad Pitt. In this sentence, such as is appropriate because Brad Pitt is both an example of a heroic actor and is included in the list of heroic actors today. Here is an interesting article from Grammar Girl that expands on this point.

Incorrect Usages of Like

In October alone, I have come across at least 100 incorrect usages of the word like in the context of providing an example. In every one of these instances, such as would be a better choice. To me, hearing the work like used in this manner is like hearing fingernails scratching a chalkboard. Here are just a few examples that I have come across, including a couple which appropriately use such as:

  • An October 8 article about Samsung in The Wall Street Journal: “Samsung has evaluated startups such as Unity Technologies … and Green Throttle Games.” Yet the next sentence of the same article states: “It has also considered gaming pioneer Atari Inc., which Samsung could have used to offer classic games like Asteroids and Ping Pong.”
  • A Google help page for its AdWords product: “Choose words or phrases relevant to your product or service so your ads appear when customers use those terms to search on Google or search partner sites, like AOL.”
  • An article in the October issue of Entrepreneur magazine about the OwnerListens app: “After 15 years of building companies such as Hotbar.com and SmartShopper.com, Oren Dobronsky checked out of technology and into hummus.”
  • The next article in the same issue of Entrepreneur magazine, written by the exact same author: “Ephraim signed on with London-based GoSquared, an analytics platform designed to demonstrate how people use a site, tracking key information like where individual visitors are from, what brought them to the site and how they view a page.”
  • An earthquake preparedness flyer from ReadyOC: “Your bucket list consists of basic items you’ll need in case of emergency – like an earthquake or wildfire.”
  • An article about cruising from the November/December issue of AAA magazine Westways: “On some luxury lines, items like bar drinks, tips, and even shore excursions are included.”
  • The featured article in the Personal Journal section of the October 30 issue of The Wall Street Journal: “Marc Forgione creates a tableside ‘cloud’ of truffle broth with dishes like squash ravioli and rabbit Bolognese at his New York restaurant.”
  • An article about study-abroad programs, also in the October 30 issue of The Wall Street Journal: “But students might be missing out on some important life experiences, like learning to be self-reliant and adaptable…”
  • The privacy policy of another GMAT preparation company: “Our site’s secure registration form requires users to give us contact information, like their name and email address.” “We do not store financial information like credit card numbers or personal information like social security numbers on this site.”

Correct Usages of Like

Does the word like ever get used correctly? Here are two usages that appropriately convey that one noun is similar to another. This is typically how we see the word like used correctly on GMAT Sentence Correction.

  • An article in the October 28 issue of Forbes about the 50 best small companies: “Like j2, Stamps.com rediscovered its greatest strength in a core business.”
  • An article in the October issue of Inc. magazine: “Innovative culture is like karaoke.”

Like a sunny day, all good things, such as this article, must come to an end. So I’ll leave you with this final thought: When taking a standardized test such as the GMAT, avoid using the word like to indicate an example.

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