The e-mails saying I should "be ashamed" for starting a sentence with the word "hopefully" (a completely archaic and bogus prohibition, by the way) suddenly gave way to wordings like, "Can I ask why you wrote 'Don't feel bad' instead of 'Don't feel badly'?" The "You're wrong!" notes gave way to "Uh, am I missing something here?" notes. (I think I may be on to something here. We won't be sure until after the publication of my next three books, "Bill Collectors Are Great Big Jerks" and "People Who Think Jennifer Aniston is Prettier Than Me Smell Like Gym Socks and No One Will Ever Love Them.")
So you can imagine my glee when Ford in Venice, Fla., e-mailed me to say, "Today you did a boo-boo."
The alleged boo-boo came in a sentence in which I wrote, "It looks like we have time."
"Tsk!" Ford wrote. "'Like' must be followed by a noun." (I realize "tsk!" is hardly a vicious attack. But as I've been drowning in tones of cautious gentleness for so long, Ford's note feels like a dagger in my heart. OK, that's an exaggeration, too. Truth is, I'm just looking for a segue into our language lesson. Mission accomplished.)
From a traditional and somewhat generic perspective, Ford is right. "Like" is first and foremost a preposition. And a preposition takes an object, which means a noun or a pronoun. This distinguishes a preposition from a conjunction, which can be used to introduce a whole clause — that is, a subject and a verb.
A once-famous cigarette ad has become a classic example. The brand boasted that it "tastes good, like a cigarette should."
Some balked, arguing it should have been, "tastes good as a cigarette should."
That's because "a cigarette should" is a whole clause, verb and all. Therefore, traditionally speaking, it should be introduced by the conjunction "as" instead of the preposition "like."