Do You Put a Comma Before “Like”?

Understanding when to use a comma before “like” can be tricky but is essential for clear and correct writing. “Like” can function in various ways, including as a preposition, a conjunction, or even colloquially as a filler word.

The rules for comma usage before “like” depend on its function in the sentence. Here are guidelines with examples to help you navigate these waters.

When to Use a Comma Before “Like”

When to Use a Comma Before "Like"

Rule 1: Comparing Similarities

When “like” is used to compare similarities between two things, a comma is generally not needed.

Correct Usage:

  • She sings like an angel.
  • He runs like the wind.

Incorrect Usage:

  • She sings, like an angel.
  • He runs, like the wind.

Explanation: In these cases, “like” introduces a comparison without starting a new independent clause, so a comma is not necessary.

Rule 2: Starting a Sentence

If “like” begins a sentence followed by a dependent clause or phrase, no comma is needed immediately after “like.”

Correct Usage:

  • Like many of her peers, she prefers online classes.

Incorrect Usage:

  • Like, many of her peers, she prefers online classes.

Explanation: Here, “like” introduces a prepositional phrase that modifies the main clause, and no comma is needed.

Rule 3: Introducing Examples

When “like” is used to introduce examples within a sentence, a comma before “like” can clarify that the following list is illustrative, not exhaustive.

Correct Usage:

  • I enjoy outdoor activities, like hiking, biking, and swimming.

Incorrect Usage:

  • I enjoy outdoor activities like, hiking, biking, and swimming.

Explanation: A comma before “like” indicates the start of a non-essential clause providing examples.

Rule 4: Before Parenthetical Expressions

If “like” precedes a parenthetical expression—a non-essential word, phrase, or clause—it should be followed by a comma.

Correct Usage:

  • It’s going to rain, like, any minute now.

Incorrect Usage:

  • It’s going to rain like any minute now.

Explanation: When “like” is used colloquially as a filler or to introduce a parenthetical expression, it is often followed by a comma.

Read More: Is There a Comma After “Unfortunately”?

Rule 5: Clarifying a Pause or Break

Use a comma before “like” if it helps to clarify a pause or break in thought, particularly in informal or conversational writing.

Correct Usage:

  • He said, like, “Why are you late?”

Incorrect Usage:

  • He said like “Why are you late?”

Explanation: The comma mirrors a natural pause in speech, often seen in direct speech or colloquial language.

Rule 6: Separating Clauses

When “like” is used in a way that separates two independent clauses without a conjunction, a comma before “like” might be necessary.

Correct Usage:

  • She acts as the leader, like she owns the place.

Incorrect Usage:

  • She acts as the leader like she owns the place.

Explanation: In this case, the comma clarifies that “like she owns the place” is an additional, separate comment on the main clause.

Rule 7: Avoiding Misreading

Use a comma if it helps avoid misreading, especially when “like” precedes a substantial phrase or clause.

Correct Usage:

  • In crowded markets, like those found in the city, you can find unique goods.

Incorrect Usage:

  • In crowded markets like those found in the city, you can find unique goods.

Explanation: The comma sets off a phrase providing additional information and helps prevent confusion.

Rule 8: Nonrestrictive Phrases

When “like” introduces a nonrestrictive phrase, which adds extra information about a noun without limiting its meaning, use a comma.

Correct Usage:

  • My favorite book, like yours, is a mystery novel.

Incorrect Usage:

  • My favorite book like yours is a mystery novel.

Explanation: The comma indicates that the information is supplementary and not essential to the sentence’s main point.

Rule 9: As a Filler Word

In dialogue or quotes capturing colloquial speech, a comma can be used before “like” when it serves as a filler word.

Correct Usage:

  • “I was, like, so surprised,” she explained.

Incorrect Usage:

  • “I was like so surprised,” she explained.

Explanation: The comma helps to convey the speaker’s pause and the informal nature of the statement.

Rule 10: Complex Lists or Descriptions

When “like” precedes a complex list or description, especially if it introduces a shift in the sentence’s focus, a comma can help readability.

Correct Usage:

  • You’ll need gear, like a tent, sleeping bag, and boots, for the trip.

Incorrect Usage:

  • You’ll need gear like a tent, sleeping bag, and boots for the trip.

Explanation: The commas around the list introduced by “like” clarify that the list is an elaboration of the gear needed.

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