Walking the Fine Line Between Such As and Like

Posted: November 22nd, 2013, 10:08 pm   By: brittany.corners

Knowing when to use “such as” and when to use “like” is a useful skill for any writer. The Midwest Request style guide spells out the rule, so refer to it when confusion arises. The primary difference between “such as” and “like” is the difference between inclusion and resemblance. In other words, use “such as” when you offer a series of items that are included in the subject. For instance, “He prefers sweets, such as ice cream, cake and cookies, to salty foods.” These are instances of sweet foods. Use “like” to indicate a similarity to the subject. For example, “She would rather teach students like Sally who focus on the material.” In this case, Sally is offered as an exemplary instance, not as the one pupil that the teacher is fond of teaching.

Admittedly, “such as” carries a rather stuffy connotation; in conversation, it can sound stilted. However, in writing – and especially in professional content – it is important to know and practice the rule. A simple guideline is to use “such as” when offering a series of instances where the word “including” would serve as a substitute. For example, “He prefers sweets, including …” In fact, you can use “including” or “that include” when you want a break from “such as.”