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.
How Such As vs. Like Are Different and Which to Choose
Using Such As
The phrase such as is versatile in English. Such can be used as an adjective or demonstrative pronoun, while as can function as a modifier or conjunction. When the words are put together, they can list examples or become clarifying questions.
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.
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 without examples. The following sentences might receive such feedback:
I have a lot of problems with the modern school system.
Harold found several code violations in the new construction project.
My mom has so many ideas for my dad’s birthday present.
Antoinette and I saw so many amazing places in New York.
To avoid hearing “Such as?” after these leading statements, the speaker may want to modify their sentences:
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, such as exposed wiring, unauthorized rental units, and no carbon monoxide detectors.
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, such as the Statue of Liberty and Rockefeller Center.
Making Comparisons with Like
While using 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
Lists with such as or like can either be restrictive or nonrestrictive clauses. If you remove a restrictive clause from the sentence, its meaning has changed, so no comma is needed. Removing a nonrestrictive clause requires a comma after like or such as because it is not essential to the meaning of the sentence.
Lists of examples as restrictive clauses not only help to elaborate, they also maintain a sentence’s intended meaning. Removing these clauses can confuse readers. For example:
Presidents such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln have federal holidays to celebrate their birthdays.
MacKenzie Horne writes about topics like true crime and celebrity weddings.
Both of these sentences have restrictive clauses. If you remove them, the sentences read:
Presidents have federal holidays to celebrate their birthdays.
MacKenzie Horne writes about topics.
The first sentence is not true, as not every president’s birthday is a federal holiday. The second sentence is too vague. Leaving out the comma in these cases lets the reader know how important the clause is.
You can offset nonessential lists of examples with a comma. These lists are helpful when establishing a writer’s point, but not necessary for the sentence structure or its overall meaning. Here are some sentences with nonrestrictive clauses.
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.
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 meaning.
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 term such as 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.
More Confusing Grammar Terms
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!