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Concourse 2

Expressing liking and disliking

dislike like
snow dislike

Consider this:

Sample Conversations:
1. Do you like basketball?
Yes I do. / No, I don't.

2. What kind of food do you like?
I like Italian food.


Something like this travesty of communication is just about where the teaching of the ability to express liking and disliking starts and stops in many coursebooks and on many websites.
In fact, the verb like is sometimes all that is taught before the attention shifts to whether an -ing form, a noun phrase or an infinitive should follow like.  There's a lesson like that on this site, incidentally.
There is rather more to it than that.


Verbs and aspects

It is possible, with a little research and thought, to come up with a range of verbs to express liking, disliking or indifference (and already we have three functions to consider rather than two).
Such a list might include some unusual verbs and expressions and appear something like:

Liking Disliking Indifference
be attracted to
be crazy about
be devoted to
be fond of
be inclined to
be keen on
be mad about
care to
delight in
revel in
be anti
be disgusted by
be repulsed by
can't abide
can't bear
can't endure
can't put up with
can't stand
can't stomach
can't tolerate
don't care for
frown on
be indifferent to
not mind
put up with
(In addition, there is a slightly odd expression, hold dear, which is sometimes analysed as a phrasal verb.  The reason for this is that it must separate when used with a pronoun but either word ordering is possible when it is used with a noun:
    I hold it dear
    *I hold dear it
    I hold good manners dear
    I hold dear good manners.

It is, in any case, rare and formal and it is probably not worth troubling learners with it.)

We can give the list to our students and let them get on with it.  In which case, we shouldn't be surprised if they produce:

  • *I frown on Italian food
  • *I endure cycling
  • *She esteems gardening
  • *They spurn westerns
  • *We relish wild flowers
  • *I am inclined to watching movies
  • *Do you fancy basketball?
  • *Do you abominate going to the theatre tonight?

and so on.  So what's going wrong?  Lots of things but the first we need to consider is aspect: habitual and continuous, in this case.


Stative and Dynamic use

The first question to ask is:

Do I always feel this way or am I feeling this way right now?

If it's the first of these, then the verb is being used in the simple form with a habitual aspect in mind (as in, e.g., I always play chess on Tuesdays).
In the second case, the verb is being used in the continuous form, with an on-going aspect in mind.  Reference is to what I am feeling right this minute, not generally (as in, e.g., I am just arriving at the station).
What is important here is that we could just as well say:

Do I always feel this way or do I feel this way right now?

because the verb feel can be used in both the simple and the continuous form without a change in meaning.

Most verbs referring to likes and dislikes are used statively.  Note, it is the use that is stative, not the verb itself.  We don't see, therefore, e.g.:
    *I am liking this
    *She is disapproving of laziness

but some of the verbs, notably enjoy, can be used in both ways:
    He enjoys classical music
    I am enjoying the concert

It is important to understand that, although the verbs usually appear in the simple present tense form, it can refer either to a habitual aspect or to a progressive current feeling:
    I like this soup (referring to a present feeling: I am enjoying the soup right now)
    I like pea soup (referring to the habitual aspect of the verb: I always enjoy pea soup)

Some of these verbs are only used in one aspect or the other but most can be used in both so our list needs adjusting to make this clear.

  1. Of the verbs expressing positive liking:
    1. be inclined to and care to cannot be used to describe permanent states of mind or habits so we can't usually have
          *I am inclined to Italian food
          *I always care to walk
      But in the negative care to operates slightly differently.  See below.
    2. be fond of, be devoted to, delight in, esteem, relish, revel in, venerate and worship cannot normally be used to refer to a current view only so we do not find
          *I am devoted to this morning's radio programme
          *I worship Odin this morning

          *I am fond of this glass of orange juice
    3. All the other verbs in this category can be used in both aspects with no change in tense form.
  2. All the verbs expressing disliking and indifference can be used in both ways.  Which aspect is being expressed is often only discernible from the context and co-text, especially the use of determiners.  So, we can have, e.g.:
        I can't abide this weather (now)
        I can't abide cold weather (ever)
        I don't care to walk far (ever)
        I don't care to walk in this rain (now)
        I hate poor ideas (always)
        I hate that idea (now)
        I can't endure any more of this music (now)
        I can't endure classical music (ever)
        I can't stomach his walking out like that (now)
        I can't stomach rudeness at any time (ever)
  3. The verb fancy is slightly odd in that it changes its meaning between the aspects:
    1. I fancy going for a walk (want / would like to go now)
    2. I fancy her sister (am sexually attracted to always)

One of the first things to get straight, then, when presenting or practising this area with learners is this fundamental concept of the simple tense form being usable in both aspects.

(There is a guide to aspect on this site and another to stative and dynamic verb use, both linked from the list of related guides at the end.)


Would you like a break now?

One of the most important (and sometimes overlooked) functions of the modal auxiliary verb would is to override the habitual aspect with almost all these verbs so we can convert, for example:

Habitual   Now
He enjoys a game of tennis He would enjoy a game of tennis
I can't stand rich food I wouldn't be able to stand rich food
I like going to the restaurant I would like to go to the restaurant
I hate going to the cinema I would hate to go to the cinema

All the expressions in the table above that involve the use of can't are used in this way with be able to:
    I wouldn't be able to endure another evening with him
    I wouldn't be able to tolerate any more of this


Issues with would


Issue 1: would like vs. want

The combination of would and like is often taught as if I would like were simply a more polite way of saying I want.
We get, therefore:
    I want a new jacket + politeness marker = I would like a new jacket
In some situations, this is true and
    I would like to speak to the manager = I want to speak to the manager + politeness marker.
In other settings, the situation is less clear because of the modal nature of would.  The expression would like often implies a wish for something that one doesn't expect to be fulfilled.  Compare, for example:
    I want a lot of money (so I am going to devote my life to making it)
    I would like a lot of money (but imagine that I'll never have it).


Issue 2: Meaning and collocation

We cannot always override the habitual aspect with would, for semantic and collocational reasons.
For example:
We can say:
    Does she like a nap after lunch?
    Would she like a nap after lunch?
    Would she like a break?
but not
    *Does she like a break?
because the concept of a break generally refers to the here and now.

Equally, of course, many verbs that only refer to habitual views (e.g., devoted to, esteem, venerate and worship) cannot be preceded with would at all so we can't say:
    *I would be fond of a nap after lunch
    *I would be crazy about Hollywood musicals
    *I wouldn't abide bad grammar

because all these verbs and verbal expressions are used to refer to habitual states of liking / disliking.


Issue 3: Colligation

Colligation refers to the grammatical structures with which a word combines.  In this case, the consequences of adding the modal auxiliary verb would to the sentence often results in the need to employ the to-infinitive, rather than the -ing form of the verb:

I adore watching movies → I would adore to watch a movie
I like going swimming → I would like to go swimming

Unfortunately, this isn't a reliable feature of the language because:

  1. If the verb is followed by a noun phrase then some alterations are needed:
        I love Italian food → *I would love Italian food
    which needs to be expressed as
        I would love to have / eat some Italian food
  2. Some verbal expressions retain the -ing form even when used with would:
        I would adore going out tonight
        I would appreciate seeing more of the town
        I would delight in going to the see the film
        I would relish having more of this

        I would enjoy taking a short holiday
  3. Some verbs and expressions do not colligate with would at all or only very rarely.  This is because, as we saw above, they generally refer to habitual responses rather than to how someone feels now.  Habitual responses are not expressed with would.  They include
    be devoted to, be fond of, be mad about, desire, esteem, venerate, worship
    So we do not find:
        *I would be fond of a walk in the park
        *I would be mad about chocolate cake
    mind, spurn

    So we do not find:
        *He would spurn to be offered the job
        *She would mind my opening the window

    abide, endure, suffer
    So we do not find:
        *I would abide some more beer
        *They would endure the loud music
  4. bear, put up with and stomach do not colligate with would but are primed for could so:
    we don't have
        *They wouldn't bear it
        They couldn't bear it



Negating many verbs in English actually produces an opposite meaning.  For example, the opposite of
    I spoke
    I am smoking
can be realised with
    I didn't speak
    I'm not smoking
This is not so with many verbs expressing liking, disliking and indifference.

Verbs expressing liking:
Generally speaking, the stronger a verb is, the less likely that negation produces its opposite meaning.  For example:
Positive Negated Negated meaning
He enjoys tennis He doesn't enjoy tennis He dislikes tennis
I'm devoted to gardening I'm not devoted to gardening But I like it well enough
I like going to the restaurant I don't like going to the restaurant I dislike going to the restaurant
I hate going to the cinema I don't hate going to the cinema But I can tolerate it
I'm mad about the idea I'm not mad about the idea But it's OK
I'm keen on the idea I'm not keen on the idea I dislike the idea
Verbs expressing disliking:
The negation of verbs expressing dislike usually results in an expression of mild indifference:
Positive Negated Negated meaning
He abhors tennis He doesn't abhor tennis But may mildly dislike tennis
I loathe gardening I don't loathe gardening So I can tolerate gardening
I dislike going to the restaurant I don't dislike going to the restaurant So I am prepared to go
I hate going to the cinema I don't hate going to the cinema So I can tolerate it
I abominate the idea I don't abominate the idea But may mildly dislike the idea
I detest the idea I don't detest the idea But may mildly dislike the idea
Expressions with can't
Removing the negation also results in the meaning of being prepared to tolerate something you don't like.
Negative Positive Positive meaning
He can't bear tennis He can bear tennis So he can tolerate your watching it (but he doesn't like it)
I can't put up with him I can put up with him I can tolerate him (but I don't like him)
She can't endure this music She can endure this music She is prepared to tolerate the music (but doesn't like it)
I can't stomach this government I can stomach this government I can tolerate the government because I must (but don't like it)
They can't stand the noise They can stand the noise The noise is bearable for them (although they don't like it)
I can't tolerate the behaviour I can tolerate the behaviour The behaviour is tolerable (but I don't like it)


Expressing indifference

The verbs in the third column of the first list are often explained as referring to indifference rather than liking or disliking but the use is slightly more subtle than that.  There is, in fact, a difference between those which express true neutrality or indifference and those which express a slight dislike.

True indifference

Only be indifferent and not mind express true neutrality as in, e.g.:
    I am indifferent to this kind of music
    I don't mind the food here

and even in these cases, the verb is often accompanied by an adverb to make the point:
    I truly am indifferent to kind of music
    I really don't mind the food here
The only really common way of expressing true indifference is through the use of not + mind and that's why it is so often taught.
The expression is normally confined to questions (asking about toleration) or negatives (expressing indifference):
    Do you mind if I open the window? (i.e., Is the action tolerable?)
    Would you like to come?  I don't mind (i.e., I am indifferent one way or the other)
Many will not allow the use of the verb in the positive but some will accept, e.g.:
    ?I mind his being late so often.
This meaning of the verb has to be carefully distinguished from the related meaning of take care as in, e.g.:
    Mind the step!

Conditional indifference

The other verbs in that list, abide, bear, endure, put up with, stomach, suffer, tolerate, are frequently used with the modal auxiliary can.  We get therefore, for example:
    I can abide his bad manners
    I can bear the food here
    I can tolerate cold weather

and all these express the fact that I may mildly dislike whatever it is I am talking about but have no very strong feelings.  In other words, I will tolerate it only if I have to.
Used without a modal auxiliary, the verbs suggest quite a strong disliking for something but carry the sense of slight martyrdom, for example:
    I tolerate his late hours (although I dislike them, I am too polite or shy to complain)

Negating these verbs

Used in the negative, most of these expressions imply quite strong disliking but the verb mind and the expression be indifferent to are rarely used this way, for example:
    I can't endure his company
    I won't stomach that behaviour
    I can't bear watching tennis
    I can't suffer fools
    ?I mind your being late
The last example has the '?' before it because there are some who will not accept this use at all and only use the verb in the negative or interrogative forms (see above).
The form in, e.g.,
    I am not indifferent to the weather
implies that you are responsive in some way but whether positively or negatively remains unsaid.


-ing or to-infinitive?

Many of these verbs refer to one's past experience of things or to the future.  Generally speaking, when they refer to past experience of something, they take the verb with -ing and when they refer forward in time, they take the to-infinitive so we get, e.g.:

I hate skiing (I have tried it and didn't like it)
I hate to interrupt (but I'm going to)
I dislike being cold (I know from experience)
I dislike to contradict you (but I'm going to)



An alternative way to express liking and disliking is to use a copular verb (most commonly be) or an expression with I find it/them/her/him etc. + the adjective derived from the verb.  For example:
    He's unendurable
    She finds him attractive
    I think playing chess is enjoyable

Unfortunately, here, too, we find irregularities:



I absolutely loathe arguments

With verbs and verbal expressions:

Almost all these verbs can be made more assertive and emphatic with the use of intensifiers, nearly always amplifiers.  There are not very many adverbs which can function to amplify the effect of these verbs so they are easy to teach and learn.  The four most common are really, strongly, greatly and absolutely (and for most teaching purposes, that's enough).  Here's a short list:

With adjectives:

A much greater range of adverbials can be used to amplify, emphasise or tone down the meaning of the adjectives.  There is a guide to adverb modifiers on this site, linked below, to which you should refer for more detail.  Most of what is said there also applies to modifying these adjectives.  Here, a few examples will suffice.

Adverbs acting as amplifiers
It's completely unendurable
I find his rudeness totally intolerable
The cat is absolutely adorable
His restraint is really admirable
That's thoroughly disgusting
She's very likeable
It's wholly desirable
Adverbs acting as downtoners
It's somewhat enjoyable
It's pretty hateful
The food is slightly disgusting
That's almost bearable
I find it nearly loathsome
They are quite likeable children
I find it faintly loathsome


There is a guide to adverbials on this site, linked below which includes consideration of disjuncts.  Here, the two most important are style and attitude markers.  For example:
Style disjuncts concern how the speaker / writer wants the statement to be understood and are often used with the plain verbs:
    To be honest, I loathe spinach
    Frankly, I can't bear people like him

    If you ask me, it looks pretty disgusting
In both these cases, the disjunct tones down the directness of the expression of dislike.
Attitude disjuncts refer to and emphasise a personal attitude, opinion or stance concerning the statement and are often used with the adjectives to express how the listener / reader should understand what is said:
    Obviously, this is disgusting
    It stands to reason that this is desirable
Combinations of disjuncts and adverbs can add a good deal of subtlety:
    To be quite candid with you, I find it utterly abominable

Three things to notice:



Style is not an either-or issue.  There is a range from the very informal or casual to the very formal, often written only items and all sorts of gradations in between.  Mostly, however, there is a correlation between frequency (how common a word is) and formality (the more common, the less formal).

At the formal end of the scale, we'll find verbs and verbal expressions such as
    venerate, delight in, esteem, relish, abhor, abominate, abide, endure, spurn etc.
At the informal end of the scale we'll find, for example:
    can't bear, like, love, be mad about, fancy, put up with, stomach, dislike etc.
The rest will fall somewhere between the two poles and are best described as neutral in style.

Learners need to know this.


Implications for teaching

Expressing likes and dislikes (as well as indifference) is an important communicative skill so to confine learners to the use of like, dislike, hate and love, while simple and reassuring, is very limiting.
However, as we have seen, the area is by no means a simple one so we have to tread carefully.


The essential difference

The issue of stative and dynamic verb use is, of course, something you need to tackle before very much progress can be made.
The essential difference between reference to the here and now and reference to how one always, or generally, feels is the first concept to get across.
It can be done quite simply:

swim rough
Do you like swimming?
Yes, I'm very fond of it.  It's so relaxing.
Would you like to go swimming?
No thanks, I hate swimming when the sea's so rough.  It's frightening.

Some simple concept-checking questions such as

will soon get the message clear.



If you have worked your way through this guide, you will know that the issues concerned with collocation and colligation are not simple or easy to learn so it is important to focus on areas which are structurally similar.
For example, trying to present and practise a mix of verbal expressions, some of which colligate with would and some which don't is asking for confusion.



The verbs love, like and hate are similar in terms of the grammar that accompanies them so that's an obvious place to start.
In addition, all the verbs can be followed by noun phrases (hence skipping the awkward issues of colligation at lower levels) so a simple exercise such as this can be useful:

children angry She doesn't like children
She not __________ on children
She doesn't __________ for children
She l__________ children
She really d__________ children
beach loves She loves the beach
She a__________ the beach
She is very __________ of the beach
She's __________ about beach holidays
She's really crazy __________ beach holidays
homework child How does she feel about homework?
Not strong:
She doesn't __________ homework
She really __________ homework
Very strong:
She absolutely __________ homework
etc.  You can make this less challenging by supplying the words to fill the gaps.

More advanced learners will need to extend their repertoire, so a logical next step is to focus on verbs which are less familiar but stronger while still retaining some structural regularity.
Good candidates might be opposing pairs such as:

Put these verbs in the gaps:
abide, stomach, relish, disapprove, detest, frown
She is crazy about watching tennis on TV ... ... but he can't ______________ any sports at all
I ______________ eating in Indian restaurants ... ... but my husband can't ______________ spicy dishes
I am very fond of shopping and often buy things we don't need ... ... but my wife ______________ of spending money unnecessarily
I am crazy about going to the theatre ... ... but my friend ______________ the crowds and ______________ on the cost of the tickets
Exercises like this are designed to alert the learners to the forms of the verbs and the accompanying grammar.  Don't involve more than five or six verbs at once or it will get cumbersome and confusing.
You can, naturally, insert some of the amplifying and downtoning adverbs into exercises like this to help your learners notice what's possible.  See the list above for some ideas.

Alternative ways of expressing likes and dislikes with adjectives give your learners a wider language resource to call on.  It can be done like this:

Finish the sentence with an adjective which gives an opposite meaning.
She is crazy about watching tennis on TV ... ... but he thinks it's ______________ and goes to the pub
I dislike the new neighbours ... ... but my husband finds them quite ______________
I can't bear cats ... ... but my wife thinks they are ______________
I am keen on chess ... ... but my friend finds it ______________

Again, amplifying and downtoning adverbials can be inserted into exercises like this.

Freer practice at higher levels might involve mixed feelings based on a series of images.  For example:

Follow the example and talk to your partner(s) about how you generally and sometimes feel about these things
swimming jellyfish I am very fond of swimming but I can't bear it when there are jellyfish in the water
music brass I absolutely adore music but, to be perfectly honest, ...
soldier child

Related guides
aspect for the guide to this area explaining how simple tense forms may express the continuous aspect
adjectives for the guide to an obviously related area
adverbials for the guide which considers adjuncts, disjuncts and conjuncts separately
adverbial intensifiers for some consideration of how adjectives are amplified, emphasised or toned down
stative and dynamic verb use for the guide to a key area
cause and effect when we express liking or disliking, we often say why
disjuncts for a fuller guide to this area

http://www.eslgold.com/speaking/ss_expressing_likes_dislikes.html [accessed March 2017]