Ask an English Teacher: “Like” vs. “Not Unlike”

A regular reader of this blog recently wrote with the following quandary:

Q: It drives me crazy when I hear someone say “It’s not dissimilar to…” or “It’s not unlike…”  THEN IT’S SIMILAR OR IT’S LIKE, YOU IDIOT! Please explain this language phenomenon to me.

A: What we’re dealing with here is a matter of degree. To say one thing is “like” another is like saying the two things have a lot in common. To say one thing is “not unlike” something else is not unlike saying that while the two things may be largely different, they still have a couple of common traits.

Q: Sounds to me like a mechanism for avoiding a commitment.

A: It’s not unlike that at all.

Q: I think I’ll go pull out my fingernails with pliers.  The pain is not unlike what I feel when I hear someone say these things.

A: Now you’re catching on!

If you have a question for “Ask an English Teacher” feel free to drop me a line. Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back!

17 thoughts on “Ask an English Teacher: “Like” vs. “Not Unlike”

  1. Not unlike is a figure of speech that was typically used to highlight our draw attention to a specific statement. As long as someone uses it correctly, it doesn’t bother me.

  2. I hope you make this a regular part of your blog. This is a great idea to be able to ask questions about the english language from someone who obviously knows what they are talking about and has a passion for it.

    Not to mention has a great sense of humor with it as well.

    Keep it up!

  3. Whaow I guess I had to be extra careful blogging here and has to ensure there’s no grammatical mistakes!
    I had blogged about being “Strange” and “Strangers”, wonder if you could give some decent comments on it? 🙂

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