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Look Like Vs. Like

November 30, 2017

Describing people is something that students learn to do early on. They learn how to use adjectives and nouns to describe people’s appearance, personality, and feelings. But I’ve often found that, whether it’s a beginner‑level or intermediate‑level class, my students usually struggle with the answer to “What is he/she like?” Their automatic answer is to describe someone’s appearance.

Students often have trouble grasping the differences between the questions and answers for “What is he/she like?” and “What does he/she look like?” They sometimes get “What does she like?” mixed up as well, since likes and dislikes are also covered in early learning stages. I’ve found that pointing out a few key points about these three questions and answers all at once helped students keep them straight.

1. Verb Used

The verb is the easiest way to determine which question is being asked. For each of the questions, ask your students what the main verb is.

Question Verb
What is he/she like? be
What does he/she look like? look
What [noun] does he/she like? like

2. Part of Speech

One of the reasons these questions are so confusing is that like can be a verb, noun, preposition, adjective, adverb, and conjunction in English! Pointing out the part of speech helps learners realize that like can have different meanings (and therefore different responses to these questions).

Question Part of Speech
What is he/she like? preposition
What does he/she look like? preposition
What [noun] does he/she like? verb

3. Meaning

Now that your English language learners are familiar with the different structures of these three questions, let’s take a look at the all‑important meaning differences.

When we ask about someone’s personality, we want to know about that person’s traits (e.g., funny, serious, shy, outgoing, intelligent, helpful, etc.). Appearance is a physical description (e.g., tall, short, blonde, brunette, light-skinned, dark-skinned, etc.). If the question includes another noun, we are asking about someone’s personal preference (e.g., movie, food, season, school subject, etc.).

Question Use
What is he/she like? to ask about someone’s personality
What does he/she look like? to ask about someone’s appearance
What [noun] does he/she like? to ask about someone’s preference

4. Examples

The more examples your students see, the more confident they will feel in giving the right response to these questions. Show students the examples below, and then take it further by having students practice asking and answering in pairs, groups, or as a class. You may wish to point out that some answers about appearance may be considered offensive or hurtful—remind students not to describe someone’s weight, age, or physical disability.

Example Question Example Answer
What is your teacher like? She is kind, intelligent, and helpful.
What is your brother like? He is funny and talented.
What does your roommate look like? She is a beautiful, tall, Black girl.
What do you look like? I am short and have curly, red hair and freckles.
What kind of music do you like? I love hip-hop. I also like country music.
What school subjects does he like? He likes math and French.


Need more practice describing people? Try some of our lessons and flashcards!

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Comments (6)

Laura F.(Teacher)

It would be great if we could find grammar exercises or reading practices to practice this content with the students

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Great idea, Laura! I'll pass this on to our publishing team. I'm sure we can add a chart & practice exercises to our Grammar & Usage Resources section.

Luella S.(Teacher)

I agree. I have also found students get confused with the word "like"--to use grammar (i.e. preposition versus verb) can be complicated. It is helpful to focus on the meaning of the three different structures and to use many examples. Thank you for laying this out so plainly.

Reply to Comment

Tammy Wik(Ellii Staff)

We're happy to help!

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi everyone, we're making a new video where students can see these three cases of "like" in context. It's called "What's She Like? A Valentine's Story" and it will be available next week. I've also added the link to the "Related" list in the post above. Hope that helps!

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