If you’ve hung out with gram­mar snobs for a long enough time, you’ve prob­a­bly come across a rule that goes some­thing like: you must use “like” when com­par­ing nouns and “as” when com­par­ing claus­es.

For exam­ple:

Siob­hán looks like her big sis­ter Ais­ling.

It snowed overnight, as I said it would.

This rule is based on the idea that “like” is a prepo­si­tion and not a con­junc­tion, so it couldn’t pos­si­bly con­nect claus­es.

The prob­lem with this rule, how­ev­er, is that it’s not only a recent inven­tion, but it’s com­plete­ly made up.

Accord­ing to Steven Pinker, a Har­vard lin­guist and author, using like to intro­duce claus­es has been around for over 600 years and has been used by sev­er­al famous authors:

The … use of “like” with a clause was not a recent cor­rup­tion; the com­bi­na­tion has been in use for 600 years. It has been used in lit­er­ary works by dozens of great writ­ers (includ­ing William Shake­speare, Charles Dick­ens, Mark Twain, HG Wells and William Faulkn­er) and has flown beneath the radar of the purists them­selves, who have inad­ver­tent­ly used it in their own style guides.

So if you’ve always thought that it was okay to say such things as, “You shot your eye out, like I told you would hap­pen”, then fear not: you’re in good com­pa­ny.

Keep in mind, how­ev­er, that this gram­mar myth is pret­ty deep-seat­ed, and your edi­tor may con­sid­er it incor­rect. Tread care­ful­ly.

About Kim Siever

I am a copy­writer and copy­ed­i­tor. I blog on writ­ing tips most­ly, but I some­times throw in my thoughts about run­ning a small busi­ness.

Fol­low me on Twit­ter at @hotpepper.

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