When listing examples, should you use such as or like? It seems like these terms are interchangeable, but there are subtle differences in the ways you use them. Keep reading to find several such as vs. like examples that make their meanings clearer.
Like vs. Such As: Difference and Tips on How to Use
The Difference Between Such As and Like
While they may seem interchangeable at first glance, such as and like have distinct meanings to be used in different contexts.
- like - makes a comparison between things with the same characteristics; similar to
- such as - used to introduce a specific example or examples
Examples of Such As in a Sentence
If you are making a statement with examples attached, such as is a good choice. It indicates that your statement includes the following people or objects. Here are some examples of such as in a sentence.
- I love reading books by mystery authors, such as Agatha Christie and Stephen King.
- This dentist specializes in preventative treatments, such as sealants and semi-annual X-rays.
- Valentine’s Day gifts, such as chocolates or flowers, are a nice way to show that special someone how you feel.
- Perla enjoys musicals, such as The Phantom of the Opera, while her husband prefers scary movies.
Notice that you can use such as to introduce one, two or three examples. Four are acceptable if they are one-word examples. Anything more than that may affect your sentence’s flow.
Using Such As to Answer Clarifying Questions
A statement that does not include examples may prompt the clarifying question, “Such as?” A listener may not believe the statement, or they may believe it is too vague. To avoid hearing “Such as?” after these leading statements, the speaker may want to modify their sentences:
Answering the Clarifying Question
I have a lot of problems with the modern school system.
I have a lot of problems with the modern school system, such as its assessment process and funding allocations.
Harold found several code violations in the new construction project.
Harold found several code violations in the new construction project, such as exposed wiring, unauthorized rental units and no carbon monoxide detectors.
My mom has so many ideas for my dad’s birthday present.
My mom has so many ideas for my dad’s birthday present, such as a tie or a new coffee mug.
Antoinette and I saw so many amazing places in New York.
Antoinette and I saw so many amazing places in New York such as the Statue of Liberty and the Rockefeller Center.
Making Comparisons With Like
While using the word like to list examples is acceptable, it’s more appropriate to use like when drawing comparisons. If you make a statement and follow it with like, you’re comparing your statement with other common people or objects. For example:
- I want to live in a big city, like Boston or Chicago.
- Lucas enjoys listening to slower music, like jazz or R&B.
- Struggling readers like Mattias or Kimberly would benefit from this new comprehension program.
- Julia will make something like grilled cheese sandwiches for the kids.
These sentences compare what the speaker wants with a similar experience. They want something like the examples listed, but not necessarily the examples themselves.
Are Such As and Like Interchangeable?
Can you use like when making a list? You can — but you can’t use such as when making comparisons. Therefore, the words are not completely interchangeable.
For example, take the first sentence from the previous section:
I want to live in a big city, like Boston or Chicago.
Using such as would include Boston or Chicago in the speaker’s choices. By using like, the speaker is saying that they want to live in a big city that is similar to Boston or Chicago, but not necessarily one of those two cities. Knowing when to use such as or like in a sentence can make your wording clear.
When to Use Commas Before Such As or Like
Lists with such as or like can either be restrictive or nonrestrictive clauses.
Don't Use Commas With Restrictive Clauses
Restrictive clauses are essential to understanding the meaning of the sentence. If you remove a restrictive clause from the sentence, its meaning changes, so therefore you do not need to use commas to set the clause off. For example:
Fruits such as strawberries and apples are very good for you.
MacKenzie Horne writes about topics like true crime and celebrity weddings.
Both of these sentences have restrictive clauses. The examples are specific and essential to the meaning of the sentence.
Do Use Commas With Nonrestrictive Clauses
Including a comma before like or such as indicates that the lists are nonessential. They elaborate on the sentence’s points, but removing them does not change or confuse the sentence’s structure or meaning. The sentence can stand on its own with or without the information offset by commas, so it does require commas.
- Some sea creatures, such as hermit crabs, shed their shells and find new ones to live in.
- Traditional baby colors, like pastel pink or blue, are the best choices to decorate a nursery.
Should You Use a Colon?
It may seem like you should use a colon after such as instead of a comma. You don’t need to include a colon because the phrase already establishes that a list is coming next. A colon is only appropriate after a phrase like "including the following," which comes after an independent clause.
Sharpen Your Grammar Tools
Want to clear up more grammar issues? Get more sophisticated by learning how to use i.e. and e.g. when clarifying a point. You can also find out when etc. and et al are appropriate in a sentence with an informative article. Grammar is a powerful tool — but you have to know how to use it!