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Koza said his organization has never had a political battle the likes of its tussle with Courtney.

In this sentence (from here), "the likes of" seems to carry the meaning of "like". Is it a common usage or something the author made up? This question is about part of speech and syntax, rather than the meaning of the phrase per se, as I am very familiar with its meaning and common usage, but not the way it is used in this sentence.

  • the like of someone or something is a common expression: dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/… – Michael Rybkin Jan 16 '18 at 18:48
  • @CookieMonster I think it's imperative that I edit the question. – Eddie Kal Jan 16 '18 at 19:03
  • It's a fairly common idiomatic expression, it means "anything like". It usually has negative connotations, so it's not quite equivalent to "like" alone. It's often difficult to guess the meaning of an idiom without knowing it already, which is not exactly helpful for learners. – Billy Kerr Jan 16 '18 at 19:06
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"Like X" is a neutral expression. "The likes of X" is typically a negative and somewhat dramatic expression. They should not be substituted for each other.

She said she had never met someone like me.

She said she had never met the likes of me (and she wished she still hadn't).

It doesn't have to be negative, so judge from context:

We haven't seen the likes of Muhammad Ali since he retired from the ring

A related work is "ilk", used to disparage a characteristic group.

She wanted nothing to do with me and my ilk.

Here ilk means "people like me", or "people who associate with me."

Related: Does "the likes of" usually have a pejorative connotation?

  • Please see the edited question. Your first two examples are interesting. My question really is: can you say "She said she had never met a person the likes of me." – Eddie Kal Jan 16 '18 at 19:06
  • Yes, you can say that, but "the likes of X" already includes a reference to whatever X is, so "a person the likes of me" is somewhat redundant. It would be like saying, "She'd never met a person who was a person like me." – Andrew Jan 16 '18 at 21:34
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The only real difference is that in the like/likes of, the role of like is as a noun, whereas the normal usage is as a preposition or conjunction. See the Cambridge Dictionary for definitions.

I have never met a person like her before - preposition
I have never met the like of her before - noun

You can see that like is a noun in the second sentence by comparing it to this sentence:

I have never seen the portrait of her father

In both cases, the X of Y is the object of see, so it is a noun phrase.

Note that the singular like or plural likes can be used: as this Ngram shows, the singular has been in decline for a long time, but the plural form has enjoyed a rapid increase in popularity since 1970 in both BrE and AmE.

The expression does not have any intrinsic emotional tone, and can be used in a negative or positive way: the context indicates (or deliberately conceals) the intended meaning. It is generally used as a more literary or dramatic form of expression.

  • I was wondering: What syntactic role does "the like/likes of" play in a sentence? – Eddie Kal Jan 18 '18 at 4:51
  • I have updated my answer to provide more information on the syntax. – JavaLatte Jan 18 '18 at 8:56

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