‘Such as’ and ‘like’: which is appropriate?

Have you ever been in a situation where you are confused about whether to use ‘such as’ or ‘like’ to mean ‘for example’? We’ve all been there, so don’t panic. The salient question is: which is appropriate?

Writers have tried to break these similar words down for easy identification, but it seems the more they try, the less simplified the words become. So, let’s just simplify them once and for all.

‘Such as’ is used to introduce a direct example or series of examples, and it is more formal. ‘Like’ is also used for example(s), but it’s less formal (check Cambridge Dictionary), and not specific. A bit confusing? This is what I mean: ‘such as’ simply means ‘exactly this/these’, while ‘like’ means ‘similar to this/these’.

Let’s use these examples to simplify our explanation:

  1. I want a lot of grains like rice, barley, and millet.
  2. I want a lot of grains, such as rice, barley, and millet.
  3. They intend travelling to peaceful countries like France and Canada.
  4. They intend travelling to peaceful countries, such as France and Canada.

Example 1 implies that the speaker wants grains, but not necessarily rice, barley, and millet—or even none of them, but others in their category; 2 simply gives the exact grains the speaker wants, and maybe some others. In the same vein, 3 shows similar peaceful countries they intend to go, while 4 shows they intend to go to France and Canada, and maybe other peaceful countries.

However, ‘such as’ and ‘like’ can be used interchangeably.

Examples:

  1. Contemporary footballers like Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are agile and skillful.
  2. Contemporary footballers, such as Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, are agile and skillful.
  3. A muscular wrestler like Brock Lesnar should win all his fights.
  4. A muscular wrestler such as Brock Lesnar should win all his fights.

Examples 1 and 3 show similarities, while 2 and 4 are emphases.

Note: use commas before ‘such as’ and after the last item on the list of examples(as in 2 above).

This is the point: both ‘such as’ and ‘like’ can be used to give examples and are both appropriate (though the former is more formal), but don’t use ‘like’ when you want to be specific or ‘such as’ when you’re expressing comparisons or similarities.

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