Is it polite to use "how about..." in formal message or it will suit for close relations only?

What should I use instead for stranger or boss?

UPD: Example: You have just provided me with your phone number. How about e-mail address?

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    Please provide the complete sentence in which you are considering usage of how about so that we can provide the best possible answer. – cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Apr 23 '12 at 19:59
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    I concur w/ cornbread ninja. The phrase "how about," in and of itself, could be used in both formal and informal contexts. No way to tell if "how about" would be appropriate from the meager amount of information given. – J.R. Apr 23 '12 at 20:47
  • 'formal' and 'for close relations' only doesn't cover all the range of formality. – Mitch Apr 23 '12 at 22:23
  • "How about e-mail address?" is not correct usage, regardless of the level formality. – A E Oct 19 '14 at 18:27

I think "How about" is very informal; it results in a sentence fragment. A formal rephrase of "How about we go to the meeting?" is "Why don't we go to the meeting?" Since we don't yet have an example sentence from the questioner, another test would be "How about lunch?" which would be more formally phrased as "Why don't we go to lunch?" Or, if the interrogative is not necessary, the declarative "We should go to the meeting!" and "Let's go to lunch!" are also good formal alternatives.

(You'll note that I am using contractions in my "formal" examples; that's because I think my example phrases are professional, and saying "Why do not we go to the meeting?" is just awkward.)

  • The "formal" phrasing would be Shall we go to lunch?. "Why don't we go to lunch?" borders on imperative, and may raise issues of social seniority. "Let's go to lunch!" is normally informal and suitable among equals - again it would be problematic if said by anyone other than the acknowledged senior person, in a formal context. – FumbleFingers Apr 23 '12 at 23:38
  • I agree with all of that. – Jennifer Davis Apr 23 '12 at 23:39
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    I didn't upvote originally because I thought Shall we was the more formal phrasing, but it occurs to me now that all these "suggestions" are problematic in a formal context, since so much depends on whether the speaker has any social seniority (or even equality). If he doesn't, he'd probably be better off saying nothing and going hungry until the more important people decide they want to eat / go to the meeting / whatever. – FumbleFingers Apr 23 '12 at 23:49
  • "Going hungry"...so extreme! (And very funny.) – Jennifer Davis Apr 25 '12 at 3:01

Not disagreeing with others, but "How about ..." is rather a pushy phrase. Would I use it to my boss? yes, because I address him informally. A customer? Probably not.

"How about an email address?" feels like I am demanding an email address. "Do you have an email?" would be more polite - even though you know the answer is almost certainly "yes" it is a more respectful way of asking.


I am an Indian, I learnt English as my second language. I feel that 'how about', 'what about', and even 'let's' can be used in informal conversation. "Shall we go to lunch?" is perfect. I am very happy that we need not say "Could we go to lunch?"

  • Welcome to English Language & Usage. All answers should come with explanations for why they are correct, citing research sources wherever possible. Please edit the answer accordingly. Thanks. – MetaEd Mar 25 '13 at 23:41

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