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Uses of Like

Guide to Confusing Questions and Uses of the Word Like

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'Like' is a very common word in English. It can be used as a verb or as a preposition. There are a number of common questions with 'like' that are easy to confuse. It is important to understand questions with 'like' because they may concern what you like in general, or what you want at the moment. Take a look at these common questions with 'like':

What's he like?
What do you like eating?
What would you like to eat?
What does it look like?

Do you understand the differences in these questions? Take a look at these similar questions that will help you understand the difference between these common questions with 'like'.

What's he like? - What's his personality?
What do you like eating? - Which foods do you enjoy in general?
What would you like to eat? - What do you want to eat at this moment?
What does it look like? - What is its physical appearance?

Here is a review of the most common questions with 'like'. After you finish, take the problems with 'like' quiz to check your understanding.

Take special notice of the particular problems that this word can sometimes cause. If you are a teacher, this lesson plan on uses of like which focuses on helping students understand key differences between these questions.

What's he like?

Here 'like' is used as a preposition. 'What … like?' is used to ask about a person's or object's character and is general in nature.

Examples:

What's she like?
What was the weather like?
What was the film like?

NOTE: This question is often confused with the common question: How is he?

The question 'How is he?' is answered with:

He's fine. OR He's OK.

Like (hate, dislike, love, prefer) + -ing

When 'like' is used as a verb in a simple tense, 'like' is usually followed by the gerund (-ing).

Construction:

Subject + like + verb + ing + object

Examples:

Jack likes playing tennis.
Anna likes cooking on Saturdays.

This use of the verb 'like' is for general preferences. In other words, use 'like' + 'verb + ing' when referring to things that you like doing on specific days, hobbies you enjoy, and other things you prefer. Other important verbs that follow this pattern are 'love', 'hate', 'enjoy', 'dislike', and 'prefer'

Construction:

Subject + like / love / enjoy / prefer / dislike /  + verb + ing + object

Examples:

They hate studying for exams.
She loves staying out late at weekends.
Jack prefers skiing to ice-skating.

Look like

With the common phrasal verb 'look like', 'like' is used as a preposition to express physical appearance. In this case, 'like' can also mean 'similar to' if you are making a comparison to other people. This question is often confused with 'What is he like?'. The key difference between these two questions is that 'What does he look like?' refers ONLY to a person's looks, stature, clothing, etc. 'What is he like?' refers to a person's personality (i.e. is he friendly, generous, mean, etc.?)

Examples:

He looks like his father.
What does he look like?
She looks like a model.

Would like + infinitive

Another common use of 'like' is in 'would like' to express wishes. Note that 'would like' is followed by the infinite form of the verb NOT the '-ing' form.

Use 'would like' to express a wish that you have at the specific moment in time. This form is often used at a restaurant, when stating preferences, etc.

Construction:

Subject + would like + verb (infinitive) + object

Examples:

What would you like to do tonight?
I'd like to have a steak.
She'd like to visit her friends this weekend.

NOTE: The contracted form of 'would like' is 'd in the positive:

He would like - He'd like to go out tonight.
They would like - They'd like to have some dinner.
I would like - I'd like to buy a new TV.

The contracted form of 'would not like' is 'wouldn't like' in the negative:

She would not like - She wouldn't like come for the weekend.
I would not like - I wouldn't like to do that!

There is no contracted form of 'would like' in the question form.

Would you like something to drink?
Would they like to play a game?

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