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Author Topic: A doubtful comparative-transition phrase  (Read 103 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: November 11, 2017, 07:22:56 PM »

I was surprised to get e-mail from a reader sometime ago asking for my opinion on what she perceived to be a doubtful comparative phrase. Ms. Christine A., who was then with the University Relations Office of the Angeles University Foundation in Angeles City, wrote: “I always hear college teachers say ‘like for example’ every time they give an example or illustration. Isn’t that phrase redundant? And, sir, what’s the difference in usage between ‘despite of’ and ‘in spite’? I asked some college professors here and they told me they think it has something to do with positive/negative sentences.”

What follows is my reply to Christine, with some elaboration for the benefit of readers who may not be very familiar with the topics. For stylistic simplicity, I have also decided not the set off the body of my reply below in quotation marks.


The college professors you quoted as saying “like, for example…” are most likely correct in using this very common comparative phrase. I am inclined to think of it as a quick combination comparative-transition phrase. Although that phrase may sound redundant the first time we hear it, it actually isn’t so. They are obviously being used to mean “such as,” indicating that a particular example is being cited from a set of other examples of the subject under discussion. Thus, for as long as those professors are providing the proper length of the obligatory pauses for this particular expression, it would be unlikely for them to go wrong in using it.  

Take this sentence: “Asians—like, for example, the Filipinos—live in the Eastern Hemisphere.” The use of “like, for example…” in such sentence constructions quickly establishes the idea that the example given is not unique, and that another example can very well take its place: “Asians—like, for example, the Cambodians—live in the Eastern Hemisphere.” Using “for example” right after “like” also makes it clear that “like” isn’t being used to mean “to want or desire” the object, but to establish a comparative relationship and provide an example at the same time.

If this is the case, why, then, do some of us feel that “like, for example…” expressions are redundant? It is because we think that “like…” alone or “for example…” alone can very well convey the same idea: “Asians, like the Cambodians, live in the Eastern Hemisphere.” “Asians, for example the Cambodians, live in the Eastern Hemisphere.” The problem with the first sentence, however, is that it gives the wrong first impression that “like” is being used as a verb to mean “to want the Cambodians”—a problem that, of course, is not as apparent when the sentence is put in writing. The second sentence, on the other hand, may look okay in writing, but it isn’t idiomatic; it doesn’t flow naturally when spoken (using the alternative construction “Asians—the Cambodians, for example—live in the Eastern Hemisphere” sounds much better).

In contrast, the seemingly redundant “like, for example…” has the semantic virtue of conveying unmistakably—and with least effort—the speaker’s intent of establishing a comparative relationship while providing an example as well. This is why both the mind and the tongue are naturally inclined to using it.

We must be aware, however, that “like, for example,” should always be treated as an introduction to a parenthetical, or an expression that deliberately interrupts the flow of a sentence to explain or amplify a point. In speech, the parenthetical “like, for example, the Filipinos” in the statement “Asians—like, for example, the Filipinos—live in the Eastern Hemisphere” is normally said with a longer pause than a comma after “Asians” and after “Filipinos.” In writing, of course, this pause can be indicated by using a pair of double-dashes to set off the parenthetical from the rest of the sentence.

One caveat, though: Using “like, for example…” would be both redundant and awkward if our intent is only to compare the subject with just one specific entity. Take this stilted, confusing sentence: “My friend—like, for example, me—is avidly reading Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.” We should knock off “for example” this time: “My friend, like me, is avidly reading Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.”

Now, about “despite” and “in spite of.” They are synonymous for all intents and purposes, both meaning “without being prevented by.” “Despite” is a preposition all by itself, while “in spite of” is a prepositional phrase, but both have their roots in the word “spite,” which means “defiance” or “contempt.” They equally serve to link opposing or contrastive ideas within the same clause. Other than their rhythm, there is no discernible semantic difference between them, so we can use them interchangeably without worrying whether what we have is a positive or negative sentence. (2005)

This essay, 452nd of a series, first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the October 3, 2005 issue of The Manila Times, ©2005 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
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