Consider the following data (spoken American English):

  • John said "I'll come."
  • John was like "I'll come."
  • What John said was: "I'll come."
  • ?What John was like was: "I'll come."

Does anyone have an analysis of this?


1 Answer 1


BE like is not an integrated collocation meaning SAY. Rather, like is a “discourse marker” which signals that what follows is worthy of particular emphasis or peculiar interpretation.

John was [like [totally excited about it]].
John was [like [jumping up and down]].
John was [like [“I’ll come”]].

In the ‘quotative’ version, like indicates that what follows is an imitation and demonstration of what John ‘was’.

So the Wh-cleft should be:

A: John was like “Oh all right, I’ll come”—
B: No, no, no, what John was was like “I’ll come! I’ll be there!”.

  • You might be right, but this is already being reanalyzed by younger speakers, it seems :) agoraphilia.blogspot.jp/2004/04/…
    – dainichi
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 9:23
  • 1
    @dainichi The author reports an innovative use by his five-year-old son; we're gonna hafta wait a generation to see if this takes hold or goes the way of ordinary learning-phase overgeneralizations. Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 11:38

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