Do you think the word like is used too much by young people?
Learn some different ways we use the word like in English conversation and informal spoken English and see the word like in action in a conversation with Super Agent Awesome.
One use that’s common with young speakers is the quotative like. That’s when they use ‘like’ instead of says or thinks to report someone’s words or thoughts.
Some people complain that the word like is used too much by young people and it’s sloppy English. But it isn’t just youthful slang and there are useful functions that like performs.
We’ll show you how like can signal approximation or exaggeration, how we use like as a discourse marker and also how like can be combined with a dramatic face to describe someone’s feelings.

Click here to learn the difference between ‘Do you like…?’ and ‘What’s it like?’
Click here to learn how to use ‘be like’, ‘look like’ and ‘be alike’.

Like in English conversation

‘Like’. This is such a common word in English, but do you know how it’s used in colloquial English? And do you know what it means in teenage slang?

Today we’re very lucky to have some help. Super Agent Awesome is here.
Thank you Vicki.

I’m Jay and I’m American.
And I’m Vicki and I’m British.
The word ‘like’ has several meanings in English.
It can be a verb. For example, ‘I like you’.
I like you too!
And it can also be a preposition.
So we could say ‘What’s it like? or ‘It looks like …’
I’ll put a link here to other videos we’ve made about that.
But today we’re looking at some colloquial uses of ‘like’ – in other words how we use it when we’re speaking informally.
And in slang. It’s a word that young people use a lot.
Luckily we have Super Agent Awesome to help us.
Let’s see an example.

The quotative like

Is there anything you complain about doing?
I will be like Mom, ‘I want to play Fortnite again. Please, please, please!’
So you complain about not playing Fortnite.
Yeah, I feel like everyone should play Fortnite!

Did you catch it?
He said ‘I feel like everyone should play Fortnite.’
Well he loves that game, but he also said this.
So he used ‘like’ to report what he’ll say to his Mom.
This use of ‘like’ is particularly common with young people.
We call this the quotative ‘like’ because it’s about quoting what people say and also what they’re thinking. So it has a more general meaning than just ‘say’. It can mean ‘think’ too because you can use it to describe inner feelings and thoughts.
Notice we always use the verb ‘be’ here. You can change the tense, so you can use the future ‘I will be like …’ Or the past, ‘I was like …’ but we always use the verb ‘be’.
Is this use of like just an American thing?
No. Though they think it started in California in the 1980s. But it’s used by English speakers all over the world these days.

Do you think like is used too much?

Some people complain that young people use the word ‘like’ too much. They think it’s sloppy English.
Sloppy. Sloppy means without care or effort.
Do you think it’s sloppy and lazy?
No. I think it’s very interesting because languages change over time and if you look carefully, you find ‘like’ has new and useful functions in English. It can signal what we say and think and it can signal other things too.
Then let’s look at another example.

More functions that like performs

Do you ever complain about having to go to bed at a certain time?
Yeah. So one time, I was watching a movie, um, it was like Hotel Transylvania III. And then there was this really dramatic action scene, and like the villain is about to beat the hero, or the hero is about to beat the villain, but then Dad stopped me and I had to go to bed.

Why did he say ‘like’ here?
Well he was remembering, but he wasn’t totally sure. Perhaps that was the movie, or perhaps it was a different one.
So ‘like’ signaled he wasn’t sure?
Yes and he said it again later.
Now the hero is the good guy and the villain is the bad guy.
And he couldn’t remember who was winning, so he signaled that by saying ‘like’
‘Like’ signaled he wasn’t sure.
Yes. This isn’t just a feature of young people’s speech. We use ‘like’ in the same way.
It signals uncertainty or that something is approximate.
For example, it’s like this big. And it could be this big or it could be this big.
‘Like’ signals an approximation.
It means what I’m saying might not be perfectly accurate. And it can also signal exaggeration. It’s like this big!
That sounds like a useful function!
And another way we use ‘like’ is as a discourse marker
What do you mean?
It’s a word we use to organize our speech. For example … Like … Well … So … We put like it at the start of a sentence when we’re thinking of what to say.
So it’s a filler. Like Errr … and Umm …..
Yes, it’s a word that fills a space and helps us speak more smoothly.
OK. Let’s hear another story.

Can you name something that you’ve had to apologize for doing?
Oh I know, I know, I know, I know. The time where I buried my Dad’s ring. I had to apologize for burying my Dad’s wedding ring.

Before we carry on, do you know the word ‘bury’.
It means to put something in the ground.
When people die we bury them. It’s a regular verb. Bury, buried, buried.
A dog could bury a bone in the ground.
We can bury treasure too.

I had to apologize for burying my Dad’s wedding ring. The reason why I did it was because I wanted to use the metal detector. Then I told my Dad and said ‘Dad, where’s the metal detector?’ Then my Dad was like your brother took it apart a couple of months ago, and then I’m like … Dad was like ‘Yo, what’s wrong?’ And then I was like Argh! I buried your wedding ring. And then my Dad was like … Oh! So that’s why you wanted to use the metal detector.

Did you understand everything?
He buried his Dad’s wedding ring in the yard.
Or in British English, the garden.
He buried it in the yard so he could try to find it with the metal detector.
But their metal detector was broken because his brother had taken it apart.
Did they ever find the ring?
No. I think it’s still lost. Let’s hear what his Dad said again.

And then my Dad was like … Oh! So that’s why you wanted to use the metal detector.

He’s lucky because his Dad is really nice.
He was very understanding.
OK, there was one more use of ‘like’ there that’s common and pretty funny.

Your brother took it apart a couple of months ago and then I’m like ….

So you can say ‘like’ and then make a funny face.
It’s very common.
And easy too. No words, just a dramatic face.
I want to say a big thank you to Super Agent Awesome for helping us make this video.
He was like … !
If you enjoyed this video, please give it a thumbs up and share it with your friends.
See you next week everyone. Bye.

Click here to learn the difference between ‘Do you like…?’ and ‘What’s it like?’
Click here to learn how to use ‘be like’, ‘look like’ and ‘be alike’.



2 thoughts on “The word like in English conversation. It’s like 🤩”

  1. Christopher Hitchens described the use of the word “like” as a discourse marker or vocalized pause as a particularly prominent example of the “Californianization of American youth-speak,”

    1. Great observation! Yes, linguists first noticed a remarkable uptick in this use in Californian Valley girls speech, though it is very widespread now. Thanks Mix-Movie.

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