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Seems, madam? Nay, it is.

June 4, 2015

Yesterday I was gnoming it up (q.v.) in the British Library, and when I tried to locate something in the catalogue there was a hitch or glitch and a message came up on the screen, “Your content seems like it is taking a long time to load”, and I was advised to refresh the page.

The first thing to say is that there was no “seems” at all about it. The content was taking a long time to load. I felt like quoting Hamlet: “Seems, madam? Nay, it is. I know not seems.”

But the second and more interesting point is a grammatical one. The rule is that seems like can be used with a noun or noun-phrase, while seems as if should be used with a clause. So one might say “It seems like a waste of time”, or alternatively “It seems as if we’re wasting our time.”

This rule is regularly broken in speech, of course, where seems like is often used for both cases. But that’s quite an informal usage. I was a bit surprised to come across it in the electronic catalogue of the British Library. Is this a sign of the increasing informality of English, even in academic contexts?

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  1. Aikaterini Procopaki permalink

    Increasing formality? Or rather decreasing?

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