In the phrase "Like father, like son" what part-of-speech is each "like"?

Just in case somebody asks, I am aware of the meaning, thank you, I'm interested in the grammar.

  • 4
    It's a preposition. But note that the NPs (noun phrases), consisting of singular countable nouns without determiners, would not be grammatical in ordinary speech. It is the special grammar of proverbs and idioms which allows this. Compare "from pillar to post", and "from morning to night".
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 10:22
  • There were couple of post which had talked about it. english.stackexchange.com/questions/310290/…
    – dan
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 2:17

3 Answers 3


This is an old proverb seeking its roots in classical latin. According to Neal R. Norrick idioms like that need expansion first then you could examine them based on today's syntactic structures.

Many proverbs such as Like father, like son and The nearer the bone, the sweeter, the meat adhere to formulas, here like X, like Y and The X-er, the Y-er, which do not conform to customary NP + VP syntactic structure...This suggests a cognitive procedure in which a person constructs a complete paraphrase of the elliptical proverb, then assigns the interpretation derived from the paraphrase.

To put it in a nutshell, they're idiomatic expressions that are not subject to conventional grammatical rules of English.

About the part of speech, since the underlying structure is 'Y is like X', according to Norrick, and like is a preposition here, we could generalize it to both like s and consider them prepositins, because like father, like son is a classic example of a parallel structure which demands the same structure on each side. So we have two prepositional phrases in this idiomatic expression.

Encyclopedia of the Linguistic Sciences, P.222-223


The word "like" in the proverb presented is a preposition; you use it to express similarity in certain proverbs. Another example:

Like mother, like daughter.

  • Reference to grammar please. Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 4:06
  • thefreedictionary.com/like
    – Khan
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 4:18
  • That's not enough, I looked there long ago Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 4:28
  • 1
    Idioms don't necessarily agree with grammar rules. Look at the following idioms: Better late than never. Better safe than sorry. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
    – Khan
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 10:21
  • 1
    These are bad examples since they are very grammatical and each word is understood pretty perfectly. Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 10:23

I agree with @Yuri's answer, but the word like in this idiomatic sentence could also be interpreted as an adverb.

There is an implied subject and the sentence is composed of two parallel adverbial phrases:

[somebody's son does things] like [their] father, [and his father does things] like [that] son.

[somebody's son is] like [their] father, [and his father is] like [that] son.

The word like is modifying the implied verbs to do or to be.

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