Because my field of study is English, I rely on the Modern Language Association (usually abbreviated to MLA) for help with research citations.
I also use their Style Guide to keep up with changes in writing rules. So I was very interested when the MLA sent me an article about the difference between as and like. That’s a word pair that sometimes befuddles me, and I was looking forward to some enlightenment.
Here’s the kind of sentence I find confusing:
I wish I could dance like she does.
I know that most grammarians (Strunk and White, for example) would disapprove. But why?
This is the explanation I found in the MLA email:
Wilson Follett has a handy rule: “as tells in what role or capacity the deed is done; like introduces a comparison.”
The sentence I just typed for you is a comparison, right? I don’t see a “role or capacity.” But I have enough of a grammar background to know that most grammarians would still say that it’s wrong. What to do?
After tying myself in knots for a few minutes, I came up with a solution: just rewrite the sentence. Here’s my new version: “I wish I could dance the way she does.” Problem solved!
You won’t find this advice in most grammar books, but every professional writer I know swears by it: When you run into a grammar problem you can’t solve, rewrite the sentence. Done!