So there I was reading the front section from 19 December, and I came across this (emphasis added):
After at tidal wave of hype, promotion and anticipation, Star Wars: The Force Awakens looks like justifying even the most optimistic box office predictions over its first weekend on general release.I read that several times, then read it to Better Half several times. He kept insisting it was completely fine. I kept being incredulous--not so much that looks like justifying could be said in someone's English, but that I'd been here 16 years and never noticed it.
Then I went to link to the article in order to write this post, and found that the on-line version is different.
After a tidal wave of hype, promotion and anticipation, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has finally gone on general release. It debuted in the UK, most of Europe and parts of Asia and South America on Wednesday and Thursday, while Friday sees the first public screenings in the US. And all the indications are that even the most optimistic predictions of its box office performance will turn out to be justified.The change to the text may have come about because the Guardian has a large international readership, particularly in the US, and so they employ their own production team who translate BrE to general English when needed. And American English just doesn't really do looks like VERBing. If the rest of the paragraph hadn't changed, I would have translated it as:
Star Wars: The Force Awakens looks like it will justify even the most optimistic box office predictionsIn other words, if you say look like in British English, you can follow it with a verb phrase* headed by an -ing form in order to indicate a prediction. In American English, you can't, so we have to use a full sentence as a complement for looks like (this is also available in BrE). This isn't the first time that we've seen differences in linking verbs with like in AmE and BrE.
Of course, I couldn't take it for granted that this is widespread in BrE, just on the basis of the film editor of the Guardian and BH. So, I looked in the British National Corpus and the Corpus of Contemporary American English for 'looks like *ing' (where * stands for any string of letters). The list of results is telling (keeping in mind that COCA is 5.2 times larger than BNC):
Of the top five -ing words following looks like in the British corpus, three are verbs. The top four in the American corpus are pronouns that happen to end in -ing (these are further down the list in the BNC). Since COCA is 5.2 times bigger than BNC, the rate of looks like being in BrE:AmE is 364:1. And of the five looks like beings in COCA, two do not involve this particular type of structure (and are fine in my AmE), as in:
If somebody strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. That looks like being weak.The looks like justifying structure makes a prediction. The looks like being weak example doesn't make a prediction, but instead describes something in a more timeless way. We can tell that they're different because they can't be paraphrased using the same grammatical structures.
|looks like construction||comparison paraphrase||prediction paraphrase|
|it looks like justifying the prediction (BrE only)||≠ it looks like what justifying the prediction looks like||it looks like it will justify the prediction
|that looks like being weak (general English?)||that looks like what being weak looks like
|≠ that looks like it will be weak|
I went through the 70 BNC examples of looks like being and 69 could be paraphrased as a prediction, for example:
- She looks like being one to watch > She looks like she will be one to watch. (in a future race)
- the Boogie Night on Dec 8 looks like being another worthwhile event > the Boogie Night on Dec 8 looks like it will be another worthwhile event
- Yellow looks like being this year's colour > Yellow looks like it will be this year's colour
- it looks like being a wet day tomorrow. > it looks like it will be a wet day tomorrow.
* If you remember grammar terminology from school, you might want to say "that's a gerund!" But gerund is a term from Latin grammar that just gets kind of confusing in English. They'll tell you that a gerund is an -ing form used as a noun, but we can tell the -ing word isn't a noun here because it has an object in the way that a verb has an object: just following justifying. If justifying were a noun here, it would act like justification (another noun) would have to act in the sentence: it could only have an object if linked by a preposition. So:
- verb: justifying the predictions
- noun: the justifying of the predictions