Evidence for ‘like’ as a Focus Marker

Kent Lee 1 ,
Author Information & Copyright
1Pukyong National University
Corresponding Author: Kent Lee Assistant Professor Department of English Language and Literature Pukyong National University Yongso-ro 45, Nam-gu, Busan 48512, South Korea E-mail:

ⓒ Copyright 2021 Language Education Institute, Seoul National University. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Received: Aug 18, 2020 ; Revised: Jan 11, 2021 ; Accepted: Feb 16, 2021

Published Online: Apr 30, 2021


Several functions have been proposed for the colloquial discourse particle like. This paper examines possible evidence for like as a focus marker. While this hypothesis seems plausible, it has been posited with insufficient definition or detail regarding the type of focus involved. It is also not clear how this aligns with other likely functions proposed for this discourse particle: for example, as a hedge marker or an approximator. This paper reports on a preliminary empirical study with small sets of conversational data of spoken colloquial American English. Its syntactic patterns and pragmatic usage suggest that like is used in a manner comparable to that of additive focus markers, exemplifiers, and other discourse markers. In such cases, it can function as an additive focus marker of indirect contrast, in addition to its well attested use as a hedge marker. Sentence-initial it’s like may have similar properties. Analyzing like as an additive marker allows for reconciliation of its various proposed functions by treating it as a multifunctional marker. The findings also indicate many avenues for further research.

Keywords: discourse particle; discourse marker; like; hedge marker; focus; focus marker; pragmatics



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