I've recently noticed a lot of people use "like + something" in their sentences even in formal speech. By way of illustration look at the following sentence from a Harvard health blog:

"To say we’re living through challenging times sounds like both a cliché and an understatement."

Is it good English, if use "like" in this way in a formal writing? isn't it better to rewrite it like this:

"To say we’re living through challenging times sounds both a cliché and an understatement."

  • 1
    Sounds like is a perfectly normal phrase meaning gives the impression of being. There is nothing informal about it. Oct 13, 2020 at 8:11
  • It's okay. The use of "like" that is frowned on (especially by prescriptivists) is that found in examples such as Like so many great successes, the ideas are surprisingly simple / Like Moscow, the main streets in Leningrad are wide and tree-lined. Such constructions are probably best avoided in careful writing.
    – BillJ
    Oct 13, 2020 at 9:07

3 Answers 3


Basic English use of like with sensory verbs (look, seem, taste, feel, smell, and sound) in similes (comparisons using "like", "as" or "than"). These uses are completely standard and formal, to wit, when written.

to sound like [something]// He sounds like a clown.
to feel like [something]//I feel like a fool.
to seem like [something]//They seem like nice people.
to taste like [something]//This tastes like dirt.
to smell like [something]//This smell like rosewater

This usage holds true for any English (geography-wise, except for pidgins and creoles, etc.) It has zero to do with whether the English is AmE, BrE, Indian, New Zealand, Canadian etc., etc., etc.

And in this sentence: "To say we’re living through challenging times sounds like both a cliché and an understatement."

One could not omit the like here and keep the meaning of the sentence. "sounds a cliché" doesn't make sense. Sounds, when not used with like, is usually followed by an adjective, not a noun.

  • He sounds tired.
  • He sounded the fool when he gave his speech. (not usual, but very grammatical)

It refers to speech, so "sounds like" is correct and accurate. After all, speech can sound like any number of things.

There is a difference in meaning between:

  • "He sounds angry". [the anger is definite in the listener's opinion
  • "He sounds like he is angry". [the listener is comparing the person speech to what anger "sounds like".
  • The downvoters don't teach English, apparently....
    – Lambie
    Oct 14, 2020 at 14:17

It does not sound more formal than average. And I'm struggling to find examples of sounds + noun which do not use like, although some similar verbs are used in that way, such as seems:

It seems a dubious honor that Lovecraft should be the most famous unknown author in the world of horror, but it's also somehow fitting. (brutalashell.com, from COCA)

If anything, like can easily make your sentence seem very informal, if used as an interjection:

To say we're living through challenging times sounds, like, very insufficient.


“like” has many meanings, some of which are informal. The use in an analogy, which is a comparison using the specific words “like” or “as”, is acceptable even in formal speech because there is no alternative.

  • Downvoter, please explain.
    – StephenS
    Oct 13, 2020 at 17:47

You must log in to answer this question.

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