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Does the sentence

I admire heroes the likes of Batman and Superman.

sound wrong? Because I usually hear the likes of in sentences such as

Don't compare me to the like(s) of you!

But according to The Free Dictionary's definition of the likes of, it means

someone or something as good as someone or something else

and the two sentences it gives are

We haven't seen the likes of Muhammad Ali since he retired from the ring.

They're not competing against the likes of you or me but real, first-class, serious athletes.

Does the likes of carry a pejorative connotation like in the second TFD sentence? Or is it really commonly used in the manner of the first TFD sentence (and my first sentence)?

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The phrase 'the likes of' has a pejorative connotation fairly often, but not always. But the phrase always draws attention to a stark difference between the speaker (or "us") and the person(s) spoken about or spoken to, or between the person or thing spoken about and other persons (or things) to whom he or she (or it) might be compared.

He had a great baritone voice. We won't hear the likes of it again any time soon.

Why are you dating the likes of him? He's been in and out of juvy since he was 13.

Consider this review of a collection of poetry called The Likes of Us, where the lines of the poems are compared to "shady characters" (shady=disreputable).

Wright's English Dialect Dictionary shows examples of non-pejorative uses:

It's all very well for the likes of you, but poor men can't afford it.

There, the difference between the speaker and the person spoken to is being emphasized. "You" there is not a "shady character" but someone who has much more wealth than the speaker.

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As you can see from this chart, originally it was normally singular like...

The full OED lists this usage as...

the like(s) of (rarely to): such a person or thing as; now often depreciatory. colloq.

Those two observations seem to confirm my gut feel that if you encounter like rather than likes in such contexts, it's much more likely to be an approving reference (because the implication of OED's now often depreciatory is that it wasn't originally so).

When I read OP's example my first thought was that I'd probably have written the like of Muhammad Ali. But having just compared hits in Google Books for the like of Churchill (4430) and the likes of Churchill (51,200) against the like of Hitler (16,500) and the likes of Hitler (70,500) I'm no longer quite so sure. Obviously almost all the first pair will be positive, and almost all the second pair will be negative. But proportionately, Hitler gets the singular far more often than Churchill, which is the opposite of what I'd expect.


Note that the construction in We shall not see his like again is almost always positive (and rarely involves the plural). Also note that I've used the relatively formal shall not rather than colloquial won't there, to reflect the fact that his like/likes is a bit dated/poetic.

But with no further context I'd understand We won't see the like/likes of him again as "disapproving" regardless of plurality (speaker thinks they're well shut of his sort / people like him).

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