I've come across a sentence as following:

Denotation is a translation of a sign to its meaning, precisely to its literal meaning, more or less like dictionaries try to define it.

I got confused with "more or less like dictionaries try to define it". My questions are:

  1. Is this part grammatically correct? I believe "like" is a preposition?

  2. If I put it this way:"more or less like how dictionaries try to define it", would it sound more natural?

1 Answer 1


"More or less" here means "approximately" or "about" or "in roughly the same way".

I would use "as" instead of "like" here. In traditional formal grammar this use of "like" was considered incorrect, but that rule is less and less adhered to by native speakers, and the use of "like" in such constructions is now quite common. this Grammerly page describes the traditional rule, which still applies in formal writing. This GMAT advice page describes the same rule. This page from The Editor's Blog also describes the rule, bur suggests that in speech it is often ignoired, and so should be in written dialog.

In the second example ""more or less like how" is awkward, and i would drop "like" saying just:

more or less how dictionaries try to define it

or better yet

more or less in the way that dictionaries try to define it

  • Thank you so much for your answer and references. I find them very helpful. So basically, this usage is incorrect according to grammar rules. However, misuses are so prevalent that it is acceptable somehow. Jun 25, 2021 at 8:32
  • @Sirendy Kim You could pit it that way. Or this could be seen as a rule in transition.
    – David Siegel
    Jun 25, 2021 at 13:23

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