I stumbled across the following in a conversation with a friend who is not a native English speaker. Considering the context, what is the correct way to phrase the second sentence?

They said:

I need to buy something. I am not sure how do you call it in English.

To me, this sounds incorrect but I am not sure why. I can think of a few different ways to rephrase it, but which one is actually grammatically correct?

I am not sure how you call it in English.

I am not sure what you call it in English.

I am not sure how it is called in English.

I am not sure what it is called in English.

  • If English is not your native language, then you may get better answers to questions like this at: ell.stackexchange.com
    – GEdgar
    Nov 4, 2019 at 16:06
  • 1
    I would not use how in most of these; what it's called refers to the word, while ?_how it's called_ refers to method or means, and that's not the way English speakers refer to talking. As for the grammar, if a Wh-question is made into a subordinate clause (an "embedded question" clause), then it doesn't invert the subject and auxiliary (and consequently doesn't need Do-Support). Nov 4, 2019 at 16:57

2 Answers 2


and welcome to ELU. The answer to your question is as simple as it is complicated.

There are many standard ways of saying things in one language of which there is no suitable word for word translation into English. Romance languages are an example, such as French.

What is your name?

The French do not say:-

Quel est votre nom? (although a Frenchman would know what you are trying to say).

A Frenchman would say this:-

Comment vous appelez-vous ?

And an Italian or a Spaniard would express the question is a similar fashion, as, in fact, would a Greek: Πως ονομάζεσθε ("how are you called?")

So how can be ruled out straight away. Both your other two might do, depending on the thing/idea/circumstance under discussion was. So "I am not sure what it is called (or what you call it) in English are equally possible. There is a third possibility:

I am not sure of the right word for it in English.

But that is no better than the other two. Choice between these is a matter of personal choice.

  • @petitrien Oops, misled by the Latin ‘vestra’, left out the hyphen and never realised about the gap! I’ll make the corrections.
    – Tuffy
    Nov 4, 2019 at 17:37

I need to buy something. I am not sure how you call it In English.

I think the sentence is wrong since the subordinate clause is in the form of a question.

The correct sentence should be:

I am not sure how you call it.

But I think the use of how is wrong in the sentence.

We use how to describe a process. If we want to know about a thing we use what.

For example:

How do you spell it in English ? what do you call it in English?

I think the correct sentences are:

I am not sure what you call it in English.

I am not sure what it is called in English.

Here are two links which show the use of whatand how.



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