What this sentence really mean?

Tom does not have the book, like Sam

Does the sentence above mean that Sam does have the book? Also is the use of comma before 'like' appropriate?

If the sentence was like this:

Tom does not have the book, unlike Sam

then it would mean that Sam does have the book, right?

  • With the negative it is ambiguous. Tom is not fast, like Sam. Both are slow or Sam is fast. Tom is not fast like Sam (is fast) versus Tom is not fast, like Sam (is not fast). The intonation identifies which meaning the speaker has in mind, BTW. Jul 24, 2018 at 14:04

2 Answers 2


Tom does not have the book, like Sam.

The sentence is ambiguous, strictly speaking.

That is spoken English: It is not formal written English. It's how people express the idea of one person having something and another person not having something.

Tom does not have the book like Sam does.

It means that Tom does not have the book, and Sam does have it.

Or It means Tom does not have the book and neither does Sam.

Only the context will tell you.

Like [some person] is used as a comparison in spoken English. It is often used with the determiner a, when a thing is non-specific.

He doesn't have a car, like you. [you have a car: probable, but it can also mean: he doesn't have a car like you don't have one.]

He has a car, like you. [he has one and so do you.]

The comma can be used or not. It depends on how the author (for, say, a script or dialoque in a novel) wishes to emphasize something. It doesn't change the meaning. It can be used or not.

But beware of this: If you say: Like Sam, Tom does not have the book, in initial position, you change the meaning entirely.

1) - You don't have a pool at your house, like me. [like I do; I have a pool]. 2) - Like me, you don't have a pool at your house. [neither of us have pools].

The meanings only make sense in a particular context.

  • -Using 'like' whether at the beginning or at the end has the same meaning right? ie grammatically speaking or in written English, it means neither of them have the book, though in spoken English people might use it to convey Tom doesn't have the book while Sam does have it, right? Jul 23, 2018 at 17:31
  • 1
    No, using like at the beginning removes any ambiguity in meaning. At the beginning it is confirmation of what comes afterwards: Like Tom, John has a car. Like Tom, John does not have a car. Compare that to: John does not have a car, like Tom. This last one can mean two things.As I explain in my answer.
    – Lambie
    Jul 23, 2018 at 17:34
  • Lambie -I agree 100% about using 'like' at the beginning. But are you sure about its usage at the end having 2 meanings? We use 'like' for comparing 2 objects that are 'similar' (not opposite) right? So if you think in that way, it would mean even if we use 'like' at the end ,it still means both John & Tom does not have the car, right? I just wanted to know what you think about this.. Jul 23, 2018 at 17:40
  • @JulesKurianMathew Yes, I am. In conversation at the end in the negative: two meanings.
    – Lambie
    Jul 23, 2018 at 17:50

Yes, it does mean what you think, but it's not natural English. It's a strange phrase, but it would be slightly less strange if you put "like Sam" in front.

Like Sam, Tom does not have the book.

But again, this is an odd way to say that neither Sam nor Tom has the book. It may make more sense in a different context:

The evidence shows that, like Colonel Mustard, Professor Plum was not in the library at the time of the murder.

We can assume that the detective already proved where Colonel Mustard was, so now she's just adding Professor Plum to the list of people who were not in the library.

You are correct that "unlike" changes it to the opposite meaning:

However, unlike Colonel Mustard, it's possible Professor Plum shot the victim with the revolver.

Again, the detective has already established that Colonel Mustard could not have use the revolver. Now she's adding that Professor Plum could have used it.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .