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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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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 that 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
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    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
  • ‘How about’ seems to be asking one for his perception on an idea, whereas ‘What about’ seems to be asking one for the eligibility of an idea. – Константин Ван Apr 5 '18 at 19:16
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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.

  • Yet <How about |noun|> sounds fine, no? – Pacerier May 9 '17 at 17:54
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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?"

  • Yet <How about our exams tomorrow?> sounds fine, no? – Pacerier May 9 '17 at 17:54
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I was just asked this question by a friend of mine, and after pausing to analyze my native intuition, I googled to see if anyone had done a more thorough analysis.

The answers here helped solidify my sense of the difference, but none of them entirely captured the difference that I perceive, though several touched on it.

It seems to me that, while there is much similarity and overlap between these two expressions, the difference is in focus.

  • how about emphasizes the advancement of a new suggestion, while
  • what about puts a little bit more emphasis on the request for information or feedback.

When you say "how about we get coffee?" you are primarily asking for an affirmative or negative reply. You are making a suggestion that you (normally) hope will be accepted. (This, incidentally, fits very closely with the fact that you can use a full independent clause with how about, since you need to be able to do that to make a suggestion or advance a complete idea.)

When you say "what about tea?" you are primarily asking for information or feedback on some thing (a noun or noun phrase, in this case—not an independent clause). In some cases it is an alternative given after a suggestion given with how about has been rejected, since (in that case) there is no need to mention the whole idea, but only one item in it.

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    Agreed that "what about" often requires a thing... but not always. There are situations where a dependent clause can be used, for example: "What about if we stop for coffee first?". – whatisit Oct 2 '18 at 15:29
  • @whatisit that's very interesting... I'll have to think about that... 🤔 – iconoclast Oct 2 '18 at 19:24
  • For clarification, a dependent clause of that type is generally considered an adverbial clause. It seems that adverbs can be used with "what about" sometimes (at least for my version of English). However, I believe they are generally very dependent upon the context. For example, stopping for lunch and A says "Let's eat slowly for a change" and B replies "What about quickly?... Because it seems you forgot about that meeting we need to hurry to." (There may be better examples...but this was the first one that came to mind). – whatisit Oct 15 '18 at 15:01
  • "What about quickly" seems a little jarring to my ear, but "how about quickly" sounds normal to me. – iconoclast Oct 15 '18 at 19:08
  • I mean, this example was somewhat contrived. I'll try to think of a more natural situation and follow up later. That said, both "what about quickly" and "how about quickly" don't sound better or worse than each other, for me. They both seem about equal for me (though, not necessarily great, in either case). So, I think these grammaticality judgements will depend somewhat on which country and area you grow up with. – whatisit Oct 15 '18 at 19:34
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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..

protected by tchrist Feb 22 '15 at 4:16

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