I feel the following sentence would be used by Native speakers but only in highly informal speech in certain areas:

In his letter he explains how the book has a great plot and is generally enjoyable.

I checked When to use the words "how" and "that" where the phrase "he thought about how ..." is discussed. The answer there states that "How" has been in widespread usage in this way for years, so even if it is not formally correct, it is widely accepted.

I feel that this is not the case for my example. I believe my sentence would rather be seen as wrong or inappropriate in a more formal context (e.g. essay). Is that correct?

  • I don't exactly know when to use which, but to share my opinion with you, I would say that how in your sentence is definitely the odd one out... It would make more sense to use that here, and perhaps how should be used with something more interactive, rather living. Eg- In his letter he explains how his adventure was so thrilling and enjoyable. Again, I don't know the spot on circumstances of when to use these words so its just my own personal way of looking at it.
    – Invoker
    Jun 28, 2015 at 13:40
  • How is generally a safe equivalent of the way (in which). The sentence would be as colloquial and grammatical (i.e, fully) with the way instead of how. The little Wh-words (when, where, whether, how, why) have restrictive syntactic uses. Jun 28, 2015 at 14:52
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    To my ear, using how in such contexts often more strongly implies that the assertion itself (the book has a great plot) is already a known and uncontested fact, which the following exposition simply analyses in more detail. Thus He shows how life arose spontaneously in undersea hydrothermal vents somewhat presupposes that the audience (bioscience students?) already believe that life did in fact arise spontaneously - they're just interested in the details of how it happened. Using that might thus be more appropriate when addressing "creationists" (who don't accept that). Jun 28, 2015 at 15:26
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    I find "how" in the above context reasonable and not terribly informal (though perhaps not PHD dissertation formal). It implies that the letter goes beyond simply stating the two identified facts and delves into the "why" behind those points.
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 29, 2015 at 12:24

1 Answer 1


"In his letter he explains how the book has a great plot and is generally enjoyable."

If it is a mere statement/assertion we would join the clauses with 'that'.

But when the speaker does not stop simply mentioning its greatness or enjoyability, but goes on to elaborating or detailing some aspects of the plot and its ways of providing enjoyment in his letter, we feel, the captioned statement with subordinating conjunction "HOW" sounds fine.

By the way,English is not our mother tongue.

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