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Could someone explain why alike is not the correct one for this blank?

They lived in tepees. These were.......(like, alike) big tents.

answer: like

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1 Answer 1

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The word like is a preposition. It can take a noun phrase as its complement:

  1. Bob looked like his brother.

In (1) above, the preposition like is taking the noun phrase his brother as its complement. Some prepositions are intransitive, which means you can use them on their own without a complement:

  1. Bob is out of the house right now.

In (2) above the preposition out is used intransitively. It doesn't have a complement (in old-fashioned grammars out would be thought of as an adverb here). The preposition like, however, is always transitive. It cannot be used intransitively, without a complement:

  1. *Bob looked like. [No complement, ungrammatical]
  2. *Bob and Bill looked like. [No complement, ungrammatical]

In contrast, the word alike is not a preposition, but an adjective. Like nearly all other adjectives, alike cannot take a noun phrase as a complement:

  1. *Bob was alike Bill. [ungrammatical]
  2. *Bob and Bill were alike each other. [ungrammatical]

The words alike and like both mean 'similar', and involve the comparison of two things (or more than two). Because alike cannot take a complement, these two things must be mentioned in the subject. This means that the subject must be a plural noun phrase, or be a conjunction of two noun phrases:

  1. *Bob was alike. [singular noun phrase as subject, ungrammatical]
  2. Bob and Bill were alike.
  3. The twins were alike.

The Original Poster's question

  1. They lived in tepees. These were ____ big tents.

In (10), above the subject of were is plural so this would be grammatically compatible with either like or alike (alike, remember, must have a plural subject and cannot have a singular one). However, the gap there is followed by a noun phrase, which looks like it must be the complement of the missing word. This, then, rules out the adjective alike but is compatible, of course, with the preposition like.

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  • In the final paragraph, I find the subject of were is plural so this would be grammatically compatible with either like or alike confusing. Especially since just above it you have The twins were alike, which is obviously fine. Jul 17, 2023 at 10:41
  • @FumbleFingers But the word compatible means exactly that, that it's fine to use the two together (alike and a plural noun phrase subject). I don't understand why that sentence is confusing? Sorry, if I'm missing something. Jul 17, 2023 at 10:45
  • I'm not saying it's "wrong". Just that the wording seems / seemed confusing to me. And of course, I already know what you're trying to convey, and I probably understand English itself better than almost all learners who might be trying to acquire new information here. Just sayin' Jul 17, 2023 at 11:16
  • @FumbleFingers I'm following through the different tests one would do in a situation like OP's. First test - is subject plural (because as described, if not, it cannot be alike). Second, does the word take an object. I don't understand, exactly, why it's confusing - and so it's difficult for me to know how to rephrase. Could you elaborate for me, please, old bean? Jul 17, 2023 at 11:31
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    @FumbleFingers You seem to have gotten derailed by the full stop before "However,". The paragraph could be clarified for you : "In (10), above the subject of "were" is plural so this could be grammatically compatible with either like or alike (alike, remember, must have a plural subject and cannot have a singular one) but the gap there is followed by a noun phrase, which looks like it must be the complement of the missing word, and that rules out the adjective alike but is compatible, of course, with the preposition like".
    – TimR
    Jul 17, 2023 at 14:51

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