How to use HOW vs. WHAT (real examples + audio)

English Grammar HOW vs. WHAT

Learn the English Grammar HOW vs. WHAT in this post. Listen to English audio and use these words like a native speaker. Listening to natural sentences spoken by a native speaker.
A link to the audio file on SoundCloud is at the bottom of this post.

This is a basic guide to using the English question words HOW and WHAT.

HOW is used if you want to know someone’s health or condition.

How is Alex?
He’s doing great.

WHAT is used when you want to know about someone’s character, what kind of person they are.

What is Alex like?
He’s nice.

HOW vs. WHAT

This post idea came from a question asked by one of my private students. She asked me if I ever met anyone famous when I worked as a stuntman. (In Toronto, Canada I worked as a stuntman before I moved to Japan in 2006.)

Me: “I got to work with Ving Rhames once.”
Student: “How is he?”

I know what my student meant, but this is not natural in conversation. A better question would be…
Whats he like?”

English Grammar HOW vs. WHAT
English Grammar HOW vs. WHAT

We spent some time learning how to use the question words HOW and WHAT in natural English conversation.

I thought this would make a great blog post topic. Other English students probably have the same questions. I’m sure it can help you too!

English Grammar HOW vs. WHAT – HOW

Please read the following examples:

My friend Alex visited Japan from Canada last week. Another friend of mine also knows Alex but, he didn’t have the chance to meet him when he was here. He asked me:

How is Alex?

~ HOW is used if you want to know someone’s health or condition. Some common answers:

English Grammar HOW vs. WHAT
  • He’s good.
  • He’s doing great.
  • He was tired. It must be a busy trip.

It’s also natural to include any current news from the person’s life:

  • He’s good. He got a new job.
  • He’s doing great, he’s getting married this summer.
  • He’s awesome, he just got his black belt in jiujitsu.

This is the same way you would answer the question if someone asked – “How are you?”

English Grammar HOW vs. WHAT – WHAT

Another friend who has never met Alex might ask me:

What is Alex like?

English Grammar HOW vs. WHAT

~ WHAT is used when you want to know about someone’s character, what kind of person they are. Some common answers:

  • He’s nice.
  • He’s funny.
  • He’s really smart.

You can also include anything about the person’s life that you think is interesting or related to their character.

  • He’s nice. He works in film and TV.
  • He’s funny. We came to Japan together 15 years ago and we had so much fun.
  • He is cool. He has a black belt in jiujitsu.

English Grammar HOW vs. WHAT – Other questions

HOW

How did Alex look when you saw him?

~ This is used when you want to talk about a person’s appearance, haircut, style, etc. (Things that can change)

“He looked great! He lost 8 kilograms!”

At work:

A: “I just saw the boss come into the office.”

B: “How did he look?”

A: “Angry! Everyone look busy!”

English Grammar HOW vs. WHAT

Do you want to learn real English that native speakers use?

WHAT

I will meet Alex tomorrow for lunch. What does he look like? (meeting for the first time.)

~ This is used to describe someone’s physical characteristics like height, weight, eye color, hair color, etc. (Things that don’t change very often)

“He is about 175 cm tall with short dark hair.”

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My original conversation with my student went like this…

Me: “I got to work with Ving Rhames once.”

Student: What was he like?”

Me: “He was very nice. He seemed to really like Toronto, he was thinking about buying a house there.”

English Grammar HOW vs. WHAT

Ving Rhames on IMDB https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000609/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1

From Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries

What – https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/what?q=What How – https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/how?q=How


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