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In the Longman Dictionary of Common Errors you read "When you ask for or give a description of someone or something, use what ... like (NOT how): 'What's your new teacher like?'

But I sometimes hear people say things like "How is your new teacher?" as a way of asking someone to describe someone or something.

To me, the response to that question could be "She's fine", not a description of the teacher's appearance or behavior, since I think of it as a question about someone's health or life condition, e.g. if they are well or happy.

What about "How's the weather?" and "What's the weather like?" ? Do you see any difference?

Is it that the former is used to ask a question about if the whether is good or bad in a specific situation, and the latter to ask about the general weather conditions in a place? So one can say "What's the weather usually like in Toronto?" and the answer would be "Dry and cold." (I'm not really sure about the weather conditions there, though!), and "How's the weather today?" followed by the response "It's sunny today".

Or do they have the same meaning?

  • 2
    In my location/era(Midwest US) "How's your new teacher?" means "What is your new teacher like?" or "How tough/nice/pleasant/fair is your new teacher?", not how is their health, generally speaking. It's just understood and I've never heard it misunderstood but I'm old so maybe that is no longer the case with younger people. – Kristina Lopez May 9 '16 at 20:34
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When asking for a description of something, you should use the construction "What ... like?"

However, how is a perfectly valid question. It just doesn't ask for a description.

How seeks to learn:

  • In what manner or way; by what means: How does this machine work?
  • In what state or condition: How is she today?
  • To what extent, amount, or degree: How bad was it?
  • For what reason or purpose; why: How is it that he left early?
  • With what meaning: How should I take that remark?
  • By what name: How is she called?
  • By what measure; in what units: How do you sell this corn?

etc...

When you ask "How is your new teacher?", you are not asking for a description. Instead, you are asking about her state or condition. The answer would involve adjectives like good, sick, happy, etc.

When you ask "How's the weather?", again, you are technically not asking for a description, but its state or condition. For questions like these, the distinction between "description" and "state" is pedantic, and you shouldn't worry too much about them.


To be more thorough about the "weather" questions:

Asking these questions will almost always get you the same (or similar answer):

  • How's the weather?
  • What's the weather like?

For example, I live in Southern Oregon, and the weather today is foggy and cold, so I might respond "Foggy and cold." The first question may also solicit "Not great. Foggy and cold." (And this is because how is asking about condition or state, something that what doesn't ask.)

However, if I ask "How's the weather usually in Toronto?" I'm trying to get a sense of weather or not the weather is "good" or "bad" usually, which probably isn't that useful. Instead, I would ask "What's the weather usually like in Toronto?", which would get me a description of the usual weather in Toronto (much more useful).

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To ask about someone's personality ( not their appearance ),we use the question :what's he/she like?

What are your neighbours like ? They seem very friendly.

  • Welcome to EL&U. Your statement may or may not be true, but to form an authoritative answer you should always offer some supporting evidence. Can you provide some link or cited resource to back it up? Have you got anything to say about the use of "How..."? – JHCL Nov 7 '15 at 12:04

protected by user140086 Nov 24 '16 at 8:50

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