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Example sentence:

Would she treat him like/as a stranger the next time she saw him?

Should it be like or as? And why?

Google Ngrams says that "like" is more common in cases like this.

So I guess like is the correct ... or at least most common choice?

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    grammarly.com/blog/like-vs-as this article sums it up pretty well. Sep 2, 2021 at 13:31
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    @PeterKapteyn I don't agree with that Grammarly link. It claims "No one makes chocolate cake like my mother does" and "He can’t play cricket like he used to" are incorrect, but to me using "as" is at least inferior, and possibly wrong. It feels like it's overapplying a general rule in a prescriptivist way.
    – gotube
    Sep 2, 2021 at 13:46
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    @alexchenco Which do you think is correct? What has your research turned up that leaves you with doubts?
    – gotube
    Sep 2, 2021 at 13:48
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    @gotube I added some data I found.
    – wyc
    Sep 2, 2021 at 14:23
  • @alexchenco I'm assuming you mean "... treat him as if he is a stranger to her". In this case, "like" is correct. I'm less than 100% sure about why, so I'll leave that to someone else rather than muddying the waters with my best guesses.
    – gotube
    Sep 2, 2021 at 14:37

1 Answer 1

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It depends "how correct" you want to be.

  1. Yes, the rule on the books is "use 'as' when it's followed by a verb." And yes, this rule is almost universally ignored, to the point that gotube feels that it must be wrong. But if you're writing academically and formally, it's still the rule, and you should write, for instance, "Winstons taste good as a cigarette should." On the other hand, for informal communication, you might choose "like" to avoid sounding like a grammatical snob, up to you.
  2. But fortunately that's beside the point; there is no verb following like/as in your example. It should be "like." "Would she treat him like a stranger? Would she kick him like a football? Would she pet him like a dog?"
  3. But, for future reference, the verb doesn't always have to be there; it can be implied. If the sentence were "Would she treat him as she would a stranger," then it should be "as," because the implied verb is "Would she treat him as she would [treat] a stranger."
  4. But hang on a minute, maybe the whole like/as debate is missing the use of "as" here. Perhaps it's being used as a preposition. Check out definition 4 of 9 in this MW entry: "in the capacity, character, condition, or role of." Consider "I see you as my boss," or "I loved him as a brother." See "as" as a conjunction or preposition
  5. But (perhaps through confusion with the above like/as debate about whether to be "in the right" or to side with standard colloquialism)... this will perhaps feel a bit stilted or antiquated, and "like" would still be the more common choice.
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  • Thorough answer. Thanks.
    – wyc
    Sep 4, 2021 at 6:02

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