In English grammar, ‘generic reference’ is used when you make a reference to all the members of a class of people or things .

So I can say "A lizard is like a dinosaur in appearance" and "Lizards are like dinosaurs in appearance" as well.

But I often see "I like bananas" in English. Can I change it to "I like a banana"?

  • I have no idea if you can - I would be interested in knowing too - but I think your premise is wrong. The "like" in "I like bananas" is the "love" kind of like, while the "like" in "a lizard is like a dinosaur" is a "they look a bit the same" kind of "like". – Belle-Sophie Oct 16 '18 at 11:54

The like in, "A lizard is like a dinosaur in appearance..." means similar.

The like in, "I like bananas." expresses a preference.

In general you cannot say, "I like a banana." That is, you could add a specification to express that you like to eat a banana in a particular situation, e.g. "I like a banana in the morning."

You cannot say, "I like a banana." to express that you want a banana as that should be, "I would like a banana." nor to express that you resemble a banana as that would be, "I look like a banana." ;-)

  • If you like a banana, the implication is you like bananas in general; otherwise, you need a word like that to show your specific preference. I guess, in this structure, our language doesn’t allow ambiguity. – gen-z ready to perish Oct 16 '18 at 17:37

I like a banana.

Give me a banana, I'll eat it.

I like bananas.

Give me a banana, I'll eat it.

I like banana.

I like banana flavor. Banana ice cream, banana pudding, banana bread, whatever.


I like tea. As I write this I have a cup of tea at my elbow. Someone enters. She says "tea, at this time of night?' I reply "I like a nice cup of tea". The possible alternative reply "I like a cup of tea" does not do justice to the question. The insertion of the indefinite article changes, actually, it increases the emphasis of what is being said.

There is a similar difference in meaning between "I like beer" and "I like my beer". The latter phrase implies that drinking beer is a regular and enjoyable part of the speaker's life, whereas the former phrase merely includes beer alongside all the other things that the speaker might like.

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