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Is there a difference between starting a question with "How about" and "What about"? Can we use both expressions interchangeably?

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up vote 32 down vote accepted

I think they can be used interchangeably, there is a lot of overlap between the two, but I would usually use

  • "How about" when making a suggestion that I feel is best.

  • I would use "What about" when I am less set on the idea and more willing to listen to other suggestions.

What about can also express an objection, whereas how about does not.

How about going to a movie?

I would love to, but what about the kids? [meaning, we would have to arrange for their care.]

See this link and this.

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+1 - "What about ..." is usually a way to bring an objection or potential obstacle into consideration in my experience, whereas "how about ..." expands, rather than restricts, the possibilities. – bye Feb 23 '11 at 2:39
Excellent fine distinction! I do like it when something like this highlights a subtlety that I've long used and understood, without previously being conciously aware of it. – FumbleFingers May 9 '11 at 17:48
@FumbleFingers: Good to hear that. – Manoochehr May 13 '11 at 18:58
Can "what/how about" be used to ask a real question, instead of making a suggestion/objection? For example, Alice: "I have 5 computers. 4 of them are working fine." Bob: "What about the last one?" – netvope Feb 16 '14 at 5:47

From what I´ve learned teaching English, and what I´ve seen in most books, the difference is that we use WHAT ABOUT + noun, and HOW ABOUT + verb. It´s a pretty simple explanation, but that´s how it´s being taught in schools in Brazil.

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"What about ..." is usually a way to bring an objection or potential obstacle into consideration in my experience, whereas "how about ..." expands, rather than restricts, the possibilities."

This is a very good way to describe it. Here are some examples:

Andy: "I'm bored. There's nothing to do." Danny: "How about we go see a movie?"

Andy: "I'm bored. Let's go see a movie." Danny: "What about our exams tomorrow?"

In the first example, Danny expands the possibilities: Andy thought there was nothing to do, but Danny reminded him that they could see a movie.

In the second example, Danny limited the possibilities: Andy wanted to see a movie, but Danny reminded him that they had to study for their exams.

On a side note, "what about" cannot take a sentence. "What about we see a movie?" is wrong. You can say, however "What about seeing a movie?" or "What about a movie?"

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I think how about is used when suggesting an idea, which could be answered or not, whereas what about requires answering, but I'm not very sure..

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