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Is following paragraph grammatically correct? My parent objected to me using "Like" in the beginning, but Grammarly was ok with it.

Like Pearl was hesitant to accept her father despite being expected to, have there been times when society has placed an expectation on you, and you have not immediately conformed to it? Why were you hesitant?

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    By the way, it might be neater to construct the paragraph differently. "Despite it being expected of her, Pearl hesitated to accept her father. Have there been times..." etc. Oct 7, 2022 at 3:33
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    I would suggest changing like to in the same way that. Oct 7, 2022 at 9:39
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    @KateBunting: Yes, or maybe "Just as..."
    – psmears
    Oct 7, 2022 at 13:05
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    The usage of like is only one of many issues with this sentence. The parenthetical comma is misused. The words supporting like do not guide the reader toward your meaning. Try starting the sentence with - Like Pearl, who was hesitant to accept her father despite expectations, have there been times.....
    – EllieK
    Oct 7, 2022 at 15:01
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    Like other commenters have mentioned, I find the sentence difficult to parse and would rearrange it. I don't think you've used "like" incorrectly, though.
    – A C
    Oct 8, 2022 at 18:38

5 Answers 5

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Grammarly is right because the sentence is grammatically correct. Your teacher has a point because there are several issues with the usage of like in this sentence.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the word like, meaning "in the same way or manner as" can be a used either as a preposition or a conjunction. Here are examples of the two usages:

The diamond sparkled on her finger like a snowflake in the sun. - preposition
A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle - conjunction

There are, however, constraints in the way that we use the conjunctional form: it does not sound natural if we use a different verb in the main and subordinate clauses, for example.

She sings like her baby brother screams

The sentence is grammatically correct, but it sounds unnatural: in this case, this unnatural feeling can be used to emphasise the humorous nature of this comment.

Your sentence is a conjunctional usage of like, but the verb in the main clause is "have not immediately conformed" and the verb in the subordinate clause is "was hesitant". In addition, fronting the subordinate clause makes it feel more unnatural, harder to understand and more likely to get a knee-jerk "that's wrong" reaction.

You can eliminate these two problems by putting the main clause at the front and then using the same verb:

Have you ever been hesitant when society has placed an expectation on you, like Pearl was [hesitant] when she was expected to accept her father?

There is one final consideration: while we use the prepositional form in spoken and written English, the conjunctional form is, for some reason, regarded as less acceptable in written English. Instead, we use as or in the same way as.

Have you ever been hesitant when society has placed an expectation on you, as Pearl was [hesitant] when she was expected to accept her father?

With as there is no particular problem about using different verbs in the main and subordinate clauses:

Have there been times when you have not immediately conformed when society has placed an expectation on you, as Pearl was hesitant when she was expected to accept her father?

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  • @Jasper fair comment. I have rewritten my answer to provide direct as vs like comparisons.
    – JavaLatte
    Oct 7, 2022 at 4:10
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    Why do you say "She sings like her baby brother screams" sounds unnatural? It sounds fine to me (native speaker here) Oct 8, 2022 at 6:39
  • I thing that in the example "She sings like her baby brother screams", we are still comparing ways/manners: "She sings in a way that makes your ears bleed and her baby brother screams in a way that makes your ears bleed". But in the OP example, there is no way or manner in which Pearl was hesitant etc. Rather, "Pearl was hesitant ..." is stated as a fact, and then a yes/no (not how!) question "have there been ..." is asked. Perhaps therefore the comparison between the two should perhaps be expressed differently, e.g., "Pearl was ... (period). Have there been similar situations ...?" Oct 8, 2022 at 12:46
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    It's also possible to replace the Like in the original sentence with the possibly idiomatic Just as. Oct 9, 2022 at 9:01
  • Like me, haven't you had enough? Grammatically correct? Yes. Like I was hesitant to accept this explanation, haven't you explained it in depth? Grammatically correct? No.
    – Lambie
    Oct 10, 2022 at 20:20
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In the strictest sense, it is indeed grammatically correct. However, it’s not well written, and this is often misinterpreted as being equivalent to saying it’s grammatically incorrect. Consider for example the sentence ‘The old man the boat.’. A lot of people will claim this is ungrammatical, but it’s actually perfectly valid by the rules of English grammar (‘man’ in this case is a verb, not a noun, the subject is ‘the old’ (that is, elderly individuals), and the object is ‘the boat’). However, it’s difficult even for many native speakers to understand without re-reading it a couple of times (especially since ‘man’ used as a verb is less common these days than it used to be).

In your example, there is syntactic ambiguity inherent in the fronting of the subordinate clause: ‘Like Pearl was hesitant to accept her father despite being expected to’. In particular, ‘Like’ is ambiguous, it could be a filler word (similar to usage in phrases such as ‘Like really, dude.’), or it might be a conjunction that we’re missing the main clause for, it could in theory be a preposition, or it could even be part of a name (though this is not likely to be how most native speakers initially interpret it), and there’s no way to clearly determine this without reading most or all of the rest of the sentence, possibly multiple times (I had to read it twice to realize that it was a conjunction introducing a fronted subordinate clause). This ambiguity and the required resolution means that this is a garden path sentence like my example above, although it’s not exactly the best example of one (the ambiguity is relatively easy to resolve quickly and does not require any ‘special’ knowledge of the language).

Additionally, structure of the rest of the question is a bit complicated and sounds a little unnatural, though this is not exactly a crucial issue.

I see two ways to cleanly resolve the ambiguity and improve the structure of the rest of the question:

  • Completely restructure the question to not front the subordinate clause. For example: ‘Have there been times when you did not immediately comply when society expected something of you, much like how Pearl was hesitant to accept her father?’. This resolves the ambiguity cleanly and also sounds a bit more natural, but still leaves you with a somewhat long sentence for the question, which is usually not considered a good thing stylistically.
  • Completely restructure the paragraph, splitting the subordinate clause about Pearl to a separate sentence. For example: ‘Pearl was hesitant to accept her father, even though she was expected to. Have there been similar times when you did not immediately comply when society expected something of you?’. This also clearly resolves the ambiguity and sounds more natural, but keeps the example at the beginning (which I would consider preferable from a structural perspective) and avoids having an overly long question.
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  • I wonder what Grammarly would say about "bulldogs bulldogs bulldogs fight fight fight"
    – Barmar
    Oct 7, 2022 at 13:48
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    +1 for grammatically correct but poorly written.
    – deep64blue
    Oct 7, 2022 at 18:18
  • @Barmar Grammarly says that there are 2 "grammar, spelling, and punctuation" issues and 1 "consistency in spelling and punctuation" issue. However, the suggestions are for premium users, so I can't see the details.
    – Andrew T.
    Oct 9, 2022 at 11:41
  • If the OP's is grammatically correct, so is this, which uses the same exact structure: Like me was hesitant to accept [whatever], haven't you [...]? That is not grammatically correct. So the OP's sentence isn't either.
    – Lambie
    Oct 11, 2022 at 15:51
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    @Lambie And I reiterate, it’s not ungrammatical, it’s poorly written, and the two are different things that are often confused. There are no issues with the syntax, morphology, or phonology, ergo it is not a problem of grammar. There is initial ambiguity in the fronting of the subordinate clause which requires reading the whole sentence to resolve, but that is a style issue, not a grammar issue. I’m not saying that it’s a good sentence (in fact, I argue it is not, but for stylistic reasons), just that there are no grammar issues with it. Oct 12, 2022 at 1:37
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Your paragraph is grammatically correct.

Your teacher was wise to ask you to re-write it.

As written, the paragraph is difficult to understand. The first question is very long. I needed to read it twice before I could correctly parse it. I needed to read it a third time before I understood what it meant.

By the way, my previous paragraph's use of "As" is similar to your use of "Like". Both introduce an example. Both are terse, formal ways of saying "like in the text the way it is" or "like in the situation where".

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    Only twice? I think it took me 3 or 4 times.
    – Barmar
    Oct 7, 2022 at 13:46
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    This kind of sentence is called a “crash blossom.” I also didn’t understand how like was being used until I got to the end, and then I had to go back and re-read from the beginning. It's very jarring to a native speaker in a way it might not be to a student when we have to stop and consciously analyze a sentence, breaking our flow.
    – Davislor
    Oct 7, 2022 at 16:02
  • It is most definitely not grammatically correct.
    – Lambie
    Oct 7, 2022 at 20:41
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It's not quite correct. It's missing one word, at a minimum: "Like when Pearl..." or "Like the time when Pearl..."

Alternatively, you could recast the sentence and make it slightly more formal:

"Like Pearl when she..."

Also: "As when Pearl..."

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    You have made it "slightly more formal" by changing the conjunctional usage to like to a prepositional usage with Pearl as the prepositional object: see my answer for why this works.
    – JavaLatte
    Oct 7, 2022 at 3:21
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    I would have used "how". While the other answers are convincing in saying that the original construction is technically correct, it feels wrong enough that I don't understand the original sentence, so I think you're right.
    – wizzwizz4
    Oct 7, 2022 at 12:13
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    Sorry but this: [It was or it was as if ] Like Pearl was hesitant to accept her father despite being expected to, have there been times when society has placed an expectation on you. It's a completely run-on sentence with that "have there been times" which is trying to be a question.
    – Lambie
    Oct 7, 2022 at 20:44
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    I think the "when" corrects the fundamental flaw in the original sentence, which is that it uses the word "like" to compare an emotional state in "Pearl was hesitant," to a time in "have there been times when". You could also say "Like Pearl was hesitant..., have you ever declined to conform when..." Oct 7, 2022 at 22:19
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    Yes, I think it's not great. Take a look at my comments under Javalatte. Like Pearl when she, Like Pearl who was, Just like Pearl who was, etc. As when Pearl. :) Many ways to say it except the way it's in the question.
    – Lambie
    Oct 11, 2022 at 15:47
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Sample sentence: Like Pearl was hesitant to accept her father despite being expected to, have there been times when society has placed an expectation on you, and you have not immediately conformed to it? Why were you hesitant?

Young people use like all the time when speaking: "Like, I really didn't want to go". That is used in spoken discourse, not in writing, but even if used in writing it would have to be set off by commas. However, just like is used to point to a particular situation.

I suspect you mean this: Just like Pearl was hesitant to accept her father['s wishes] despite being expected to, haven't there been times when society has placed expectations on you, and you have not immediately conformed to it? Why were you hesitant?

Now it balances the sentences since "just like" is explained in relation to the person being addressed by the author's question.

Just like your sisters, haven't you always [or even] dyed your hair?

Like your sisters, haven't you always [or ever] dyed your hair?

OR

Like Pearl who was hesitant to accept her father['s wishes] despite being expected to, haven't there been times when society has placed expectations on you, and you have not immediately conformed to it? Why were you hesitant?

like is used to compare one person or thing to another. And "just like" can make it much clearer. The reader is being addressed by the author who is comparing the character's situation to your own or her own situation.

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    The "just" here is optional and synonymous, though does reduce ambiguity, and ease parsing of the sentence. While the meaning is unchanged without it, this answer seems to imply that 'Just' is grammatically required. The bolding didn't clarify anything, at least for me, and I'm unsure what it's meant to indicate: both of the "your sisters" sentences seem to parse without issue for me. Oct 7, 2022 at 21:29
  • @DewiMorgan Of course, it is optional. But it makes the thing clearer as the comparison is much further down in your sentence. I gave two examples of my own and the same sentence, one with just and one without. Those examples of mine have the same structure as yours.
    – Lambie
    Oct 8, 2022 at 15:06

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