My question was retitled:

What is this function called?

Originally my title was:

How is this function called?

I still think that my version was correct; I always state such questions this way. Which one is really correct?

  • 5
    You've obviously been using that manifestly incorrect construction for some time. People won't normally point it out because it's fairly common among non-native speakers, and it doesn't impede understanding anyway. Unless you're actually trying to pass as a native English speaker yourself, it's not really a significant error. May 19, 2011 at 23:58
  • @FumbleFingers that's bad actually, native speakers should help nonnative ones :) people think that it is not polite to point at mistakes but I think it is really useful. I really want to become as close to native speaker as possible.
    – Andrey
    May 20, 2011 at 9:51
  • @FumbleFingers it is very common mistake done by Russians (incl. me) because "How" version looks more similar to Russian version of this question.
    – Andrey
    May 20, 2011 at 9:53
  • 1
    Well if you really want to get word-perfect in English, you could post another question asking exactly what's 'unnatural' about your I always state such questions this way above. I can't put my finger on the exact reason, but it certainly has the stamp of 'non-native speaker' to me. May 20, 2011 at 11:50
  • I agree with Andrey. It is always good to have one's mistake corrected, earlier the better. And on "I always state such questions this way" phrase, my take is - you state an opinion but you ask a question. I would like to be corrected, if I am wrong.
    – rest_day
    May 21, 2011 at 1:00

4 Answers 4


What do you call...? should be answered by a noun.

Q. What do you call your dog? A. Lucky

How do you call...? should be answered by an action.

Q. How do you call your dog? A. By whistling

  • 2
    I upvoted your answer and @Ben Hocking's, but I expect his will get more in the long run because it specifically addresses the confusion re program function calling conventions. Shame really, because yours illustrates the general case of How/What very neatly. May 20, 2011 at 1:39
  • After reading Ben Jackon's comment on my answer, I concur with FumbleFingers. May 20, 2011 at 9:39
  • @Ben Hocking, @rest_day: You guys should pool your answers. They're both good, but either on its own is incomplete. May 20, 2011 at 11:00
  • I like to think, I expanded on @Ben Hocking's answer. Both are really similar, if you ask me. Also thanks to all who upvoted my answer. Feels nice when your first answer is appreciated thus.
    – rest_day
    May 21, 2011 at 1:05

How is this function called? is a different question from What is this function called? The latter question is asking for a name of the function, whereas the former question is asking for the proper way to call the function, which might require specific arguments, etc.

  • 10
    +1. In other words, if you want to know the name of something, you must ask What is this called?. The other use (how) is only ever used in very limited contexts, and with a different meaning.
    – psmears
    May 19, 2011 at 21:56
  • 2
    This answer is specific to the word "function" (as in computer function, not mathematical function as in the linked context) to which one can apply the verb "to call" meaning "to invoke". May 20, 2011 at 1:45

A literal translation of the German "Wie heißt das Buch?" is "How is the book called?" but an idiomatic English translation would be "What is the name of that book?" I mention this because your other answers have taken the cue from "called" to give you constructions with "called". When asking what something is "called" it's about a more general property. "What do you call the man who brings your mail?" The mailman. "What is the name of the man who brings your mail?" Bob.

  • 2
    In Russian literal translation is very similar to German version, question actually starts with work "Как", that is "How" (or "Wie"). This is a nature of my confusion.
    – Andrey
    May 20, 2011 at 10:01

What do you call this?

How do you describe this?

The above two sentences seem OK to me, so I think the correct sentence to go with is: What is this function called?

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