Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

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

share|improve this question

4 Answers 4

up vote 15 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.

share|improve this answer
5  
+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
1  
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 at 5:47

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..

share|improve this answer

"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?"

share|improve this answer

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.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.