If This Feels Like a Rerun, It Sort of Is—but It Bears Repeating
It doesn’t take much to make me grumpy these days. A glance at the front page of almost any newspaper is usually enough—and not only because of the horrible news but because of the horrible way that that news is often written about.
(I have probably bugged you enough about ungrammatical headlines and infelicitous sentences.)
But I don’t even have to glance at the newspaper. I can watch the talking heads on news shows or listen to interviews on public radio and get just as exercised—maybe more so.
I have made a distinction in the past between writing and speaking, allowing for leeway in informal and everyday speech that I am not willing to grant to written communications.
But the supposedly intelligent people who are pontificating about matters of national importance ought, at least, to pontificate in a grammatical manner.
So it grinds me to hear everybody and his or her sibling feeling “like,” even when “like” is either superfluous or grammatically incorrect. (I think Rachel Maddow is a superb investigative reporter, but, in her five-minute August 15, 2019, broadcast about Donald Trump contemplating the purchase of Greenland, she must have misused “feel like” at least a half-dozen times in the space of a minute.)
I have already written at least one column complaining about the misuse of “feel like,” but I hear the damn phrase so much that I need to complain some more. “Feel like” is fast becoming a bigger irritant to me than the dreaded “as far as” that lacks the ending “goes” or “is concerned.” And that’s saying something because I HATE the “as far as” thing.
Can you tell me why it is that people feel the need (should that be “feel like the need”) to stick a “like” after every “feel” that they utter?
“I feel like it was a really bad move.” Why “I feel like”?
Would you say “I think like it was a really bad move” or “I believe like it was a really bad move” or “I guess like it was a really bad move” or I’m afraid like it was a really bad move”? If you would say “I think it was …,” “I believe it was …,” “I guess it was …,” or “I’m afraid it was,” why in the hell would you say “I feel like it was …”?
Here’s the simple rule-of-thumb repeated. Don’t use “feel like” before something that could be an independent clause—i.e., something with a subject and a verb, something that could be a sentence in and of itself. (“It was a really bad move” qualifies as such.)
If you can substitute “that” for “like,” you know that “like” is wrong. “I feel that it was a really bad move.” See?
In fact, if you can leave “like” out altogether, you’ll realize you don’t need it. “I feel it was a really bad move.” See again?
And here’s a radical idea: why feel anything at all. Why not just come out and state it, if that’s the way you feel? “It was a really bad move.” You’re saying it, so there’s not really any need to bring your feelings into it; the listener will know that this is your sentiment.
(Do you remember, ’way back in high school, when you were asked to write a paper, that your teacher told you not to use “I”? What s/he was really telling you, in perhaps not the clearest way, was that, any time you write a paper, especially an opinion paper, the ideas and sentiments therein are yours, no one else’s—unless you’re citing a source, of course—and therefore there’s no reason to preface your remarks with “I think,” “I feel,” etc. … I wouldn’t necessarily ban you from feeling or thinking or guessing, but I do see the wisdom of limiting this particular conversational or writing tic.)
You can use “feel like” when what follows is a gerund phrase: “I feel like going to the movies”; “I feel like [eating] some bacon and eggs.” And you can use “feel like” when you’re comparing yourself (or others) to something else: “I feel like a million dollars”; “He feels like the luckiest guy in the world”; “I feel like excrement.”
(Try substituting “that” for “like” in the above examples, and see where it gets you. Ditto leaving out “like.”)
Take this simple quiz. In which of the following sentences is “feel like” okay and in which should you substitute “that” for “like” (or, if you prefer, omit “like” or omit the entire “I feel” intro)?
- I feel like you don’t respect me.
- And it makes me feel like a dish of cold spaghetti.
- I feel like kissing you on the mouth.
- I feel like I could kiss you on the mouth.
- I feel like I would kick you in the teeth if you did.
- I feel like kicking you in the teeth.
- Do you feel like [taking] a walk in the park?
- I feel like I’m gonna puke.
- I feel like throwing up.
- I feel like the only living boy in New York City.
- I don’t feel like it.
- I feel like I get the idea now.
Don’t look over here yet—these are the answers. Don’t look at the answers until you’ve taken the quiz!
Done? Okay, here are the answers:
“Feel like” is correct: 2, 3, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11.
“Feel like” is incorrect: 1, 4, 5, 8, 12
If you got all 12 right, you should feel like a hero. If you got one or two wrong, I feel that you should practice a little more and try a little harder. If you got three or four wrong, you should practice a lot more and try a lot harder. If you got five or more wrong, you probably feel like excrement, so I won’t say anything more at this time.
Thank you, and good day.
Anthony Ambrogio, firstname.lastname@example.org