1

(particularly related to question/answer sites such as this)

Quite often people want to ask "How do I/you... ?"

Maybe to be less personal or to have a generic title, "How to... ?" is chosen instead. To me this feels quite jarring/incorrect (discussed here: Is a question beginning with "How to" grammatically correct?). Why is this wording so common?

"How does one... ?" might be more appropriate, but could be regarded as too formal or pompous. Is Is there another, better way to ask?

  • 1
    "How can I...?" - "What's the best way to..." – Em1 Nov 15 '13 at 13:02
  • 1
  • Wh-infinitive clauses like who to elect, what to do, how to ask a question, etc. are used grammatically as subordinate clauses (put She isn't sure in front of any of these to see), and -- in writing only -- as headlines, but not as an actual information question -- unless (a) it is written with a question mark, and (b) the text it is a header for answers or explicates the question. So, no, it's not normally a grammatical way to ask a question. – John Lawler Nov 15 '13 at 13:40
  • 1
    Most sentences that begin with "How to" are not questions. They are the beginning of a description of how to do something -- How to train your dragon, How to lose a guy in 10 days, etc. – Jay Elston Nov 16 '13 at 1:14
  • 1
    @JohnLawler, with the exception, perhaps, of, “What to do?”, which does tend to be used mostly outside header contexts. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 16 '13 at 1:40
1

How do you ..? is in fact pretty generic. Of course 'you' could be specific = the addressee, but often it is generic in the manner of French 'on' or German 'man'

Then there is How do we..? which as a generic asks how something is done within a group of people that both you and I belong to, eg. how something is done within the company we both work for.

[Edited section on How do we]

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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