How to Use the Word ‘Like’ In English

The following conversation occurred between two girls from Southern California.

“So, like uhh, what do you want to like, do today?”
“I don’t know, like, its such a beautiful day out, we should, like, go to the beach.”
“That sounds like a good idea, but like, how are we going to get there?”
Like, uh, let’s call Mike and see if he’ll like give us a ride.”
“Are you sure that’s like, a good idea? Like didn’t you two just like break up?”
“Well, I mean, like, the last time we talked he was like, “I think we should see other people,” and then I was like, “But Mike, I like really like you.”
Like oh my god, and then like what did he say next?”
“He was like, “I like you too, but I just can’t be with someone who says ‘like’ so much.”

The word like has become increasingly popular in spoken English in recent years, and has quickly become one of the most used words in conversation. Its uses are many, and it can be used to: stall for time; report speech; soften what you say; approximate; complain; and reinforce. Like is an important word to study because of how often you will hear it used in conversation. Learning how to use it properly will go a long way towards making you sounds more like a native speaker.

Before we go further, I need to put up a disclaimer around the usage of the word like. When used in moderation the word like can be a powerful linguistic tool; use it too much and you risk sounding like a teenage girl. People who over use the word like are perceived as less intelligent and articulate than people who avoid using it. My advice to you is to only incorporate usage of the word like in 1 or 2 of the following ways, but not all of them.

What you already know

You are already familiar with two definitions of the word like. You know that ‘to like’ means ‘to enjoy.” For example:

“I like to eat pão de queijo.”
“Peter likes making pizza.”

If something is like something else, it is similar to it. For example:

“Written Spanish is kind of like Portuguese.”
“Australian English is not like New Zealand English.”

“I’m thinking about what to say”

When you are thinking about what to say and want to fill the air with something, like is the word that you use. In this case, like is very similar to tipo in Portuguese. If you stay silent for too long someone may interrupt you; to avoid this keep saying “like…uhh….like…uhh” until you remember what you were going to say. Here are some examples:

“Do you think you and Janet are going to get married?”
“I don’t know… like… I want to, but then again, I’m kind of scared, you know?”

“What did you do last week?”
“I like… don’t remember!”

From the conversation at the beginning:
“So, like uhh, what do you want to like, do today?”

To report speech or thought

When telling a story to your friends, saying “he said” and “I said” can get pretty repetitive, so sometimes you can change things up by using like. “I was like” can be used in the place of “I said”; “he was like” in the place of “he said. Some teenage girls have completely lost the ability to say “I/you/he/she said” and only use like. To be clear, it’s acceptable to use “he was like” without seeming like a teenage girl, but just don’t let it entirely replace your use of the word “said.”

When “I was like” is used it doesn’t necessarily mean that you said something; it can also be used to designate that you thought something. So in this case “I was like” takes the place of “I thought to myself.” This is also commonly used during story telling.

“You broke up with her? Wow. How did she take it?”
“She was like “What! After all I’ve done for you?”

“And then the teacher was like ‘We have a surprise test today,’ and I was like ‘Shit, I didn’t study at all.’”

In the example from the beginning:
“Well, I mean, like, the last time we talked he was like, “I think we should see other people,” and then I was like, “But Mike, I like really like you.”

To reduce conviction, certainty or force

Like can be used if you aren’t entirely sure about what you are saying and you want to convey your uncertainty. When used like this, like should be before a number, time or quantity.

“Do you exercise a lot?”
“I, like, enjoy working out, but not, like, all the time or anything.”

“What time will you be at the party?”
“I’ll be there at like, 5 or 6.”

In the above conversation it was used like this:

“…we should, like, go to the beach.”

Like can also be used to lessen the force of what you are demanding or requesting of someone.

“Could you do it, like, tomorrow?”
“Oh sure. No problem.”

“Can you like, shut up?”

Like meaning “approximately”

Do you have a hard time pronouncing the word “approximately?” Just start using like instead. Like can be used to show that you are uncertain of a quantity that you are giving to someone. For example:

“Entrance to that bar should be like, ten bucks.”

“He’s like, ten or eleven years old, I think.”

Like Meaning “for example”

In almost all cases the word like can be used to replace ‘for example’. When used this way it should be before a noun or noun phrase. So like:

Have you been to any Asian countries, like Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos or North Korea?”

“Do you have any hobbies, like stamp collecting or photography?”

To reinforce

The last use of like is to add reinforcement to something that you are saying. I don’t recommend using like in this way, but I feel like I should add it in here for the sake of completeness.

“Did you see that girl?”
“Yeah, she’s like, so hot.”

“How was Hawaii?”
“Oh, it was like, perfect!”

In the conversation from the beginning it was used like this:
“…like, its such a beautiful day out…”

So like, that’s it. I hope you’ve learned a few new uses for the word like today. If you have any questions about their usage please leave a comment below.

Have you ever heard someone use like in one of the ways described here? Leave your answer in the comments below.

  • Aisha says:

    interesting article and video, please do share with me if you find other videos or articles

  • RAHAT PATHAN says:

    Mai akela hoon mere sath koi nahi
    Tum ao to zindagi banjaigy mere.

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  • Frances says:

    What’s wrong with sounding like a teenage girl? That’s an incredibly insensitive and inappropriate thing to say about. To then go on and say that “People who over use the word like are perceived as less intelligent and articulate than people who avoid using it”.

    I think you should consider the language you use and the association you make about women and girls and check your bias.

    • Agnieszka from RealLife English says:

      Thank you for sharing your opinion, Frances! You are right! Not only girls overuse the word.