They were all dressed as clowns.

The bomb was disguised as a package.

If I replaced "as" with "like", what would it bring any difference in meaning? Would it be acceptable in conversation? Both would act as subject complement here.

I couldn't give any other complicated examples than this, which might make it more tricky to answer, but I guess there must be some.

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    like means like! as means what it is! So, if you dress like a clown, your appearance is like a clown but if you dress as a clown, you are clown. – Maulik V Mar 17 '14 at 13:49
  • I don't think so. The second example better defines it as "like". – Kinzle B Mar 17 '14 at 13:51
  • Like I said, Some other examples would make things even more complicated. – Kinzle B Mar 17 '14 at 14:02
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    To me, like is a bit more ambiguous than as. In both sentences, with as, I would that them as a hint that they were dressed or the bomb was disguised intentionally. With like, it could mean the same thing, or it could be something perceived by a third person; that is, to this third person, their appearances were clown-like, and the bomb looked like a package. – Damkerng T. Mar 17 '14 at 14:23

Note: These are not strict rules. They are interchangeable, but usually will hold these meanings.

As implies they are wearing clown attire.

They were all dressed as clowns with big red noses and over-sized pants.

Like implies they may be wearing something that looks goofy or resembles a clown, without actually wearing clown attire.

They were dressed like clowns in their unorthodox clothes.

With your bomb sentence, as and like convey a very similar meaning. When using as, you are saying the bomb literally looks like a package. When you use like, the bomb has characteristics that it shares with a package, but can be differentiated from a package. For example, the bomb may have a cardboard exterior like a package, but has buttons on top for timing the bomb as well.

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  • the same thing I said in my comment (about the dressing)! – Maulik V Mar 18 '14 at 7:31

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