Punctuating "Like"


12/15/20231 min read

Punctuation often seems like a no-man’s-land. You think you have everything figured out—you finally know what a relative clause is—but there’s always a new conundrum around the corner.

This is especially true when you write characters with, like, colloquial speech patterns—ya know?

Like especially introduces a lot of confusion because of its versatility in vernacular speech. Here's a quick guide for punctuating the most common “bonus” flavors of like.

Cognitive Interjection

Just like um can show thought is taking place, like often performs a similar function.

Perhaps this is why people often make fun of you for using it too often—it can be perceived as a lack of thought or clarity in the speaker.

In these cases, you should, like, punctuate them like any other, like, interjection.


Like can also function as a synonym for about or approximately, and it can be punctuated in the same manner.

I could probably give you like a million examples.

You could argue that it’s still functioning as a cognitive interjection here, but I find it helpful to differentiate these from the more, like, obviously meaningless uses.

Plus, it helps reduce some comma clutter when you, like, have someone that says it like ten times per sentence in multiple ways.

Dialogue Tag

Finally, like serves one of the few alternatives to said that actually get used in everyday conversation. These can be punctuated like any other dialogue tag.

“So—in effect—you should, like, punctuate it as an interjection,” I said. And she was like, “And then you’ll sell like ten zillion books!”