Foreign learners of English often confuse how and what when asking questions, especially when asking about sense verbs (for example look, taste, feel, smell). Questions that draw a comparison (for instance using the word like) are a common area of confusion:
- How does it look?
- What does it look like?
In some situations, this could be almost the same question. The difference is that how asks for manner or condition, but what asks for an object.
If we asked How does the music sound?, the answer should tell us the quality of the music. For example The music sounds good.
If we ask What does the music sound like?, the answer should compare the music to something else. For example The music sounds like a cat screaming.
This can be made confusing because sometimes we use what with like to ask about quality for conditions, in informal spoken English. For example: What was the film like? asks about quality – The film was good. However an important point to remember is that while what…like can ask about condition, how should never be followed by like. How was the film? asks the same question as above, but How was the film like? is incorrect.
Complete the following exercise to practice this point.