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How vs. What: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Aimie Carlson || Updated on November 22, 2023
"How" refers to the manner or way in which something is done, while "what" identifies the thing or subject in question.

Key Differences

"How" is used to ask about the process, method, or condition of something. While, "what" is used to identify or specify something, asking about its nature or identity.
"How" can inquire about the means, technique, or quality of an action. However, "what" is more about seeking information or clarification on a particular subject or object.
"How" often leads to explanations or descriptions of actions. In contrast, "what" typically elicits definitions, identifications, or specifications.
"How" questions are concerned with procedure or manner. Whereas, "what" questions focus on content, object, or idea.
In response to "how," explanations or instructions are given. For "what," the responses are often factual or descriptive.

Comparison Chart


Inquires about manner, method, or condition
Identifies or specifies something

Question Type

Asks about process or technique
Seeks information on a subject or object


Explanations, descriptions
Definitions, identifications


Procedure, manner
Content, object, idea

Typical Answers

How-to explanations, quality descriptions
Factual or descriptive information

How and What Definitions


Inquires about the manner or method.
How do you bake a cake?


Used to ask about identity or nature.
What is your name?


Asks about condition or quality.
How is the weather today?


Asks for specific information or details.
What ingredients are needed for this recipe?


Used to ask about degree or extent.
How tall is the building?


Inquires about type or category.
What kind of music do you like?


Concerned with process or procedure.
How does the engine work?


Concerned with content or subject matter.
What is the topic of today’s meeting?


Used in asking for explanations or reasons.
How did the accident happen?


Which one or ones of several or many
What college are you attending? You should know what musical that song is from.


In what manner or way; by what means
How does this machine work?.


They soon repaired what damage had been done.


In what state or condition
How is she today?.


How great; how astonishing
What a fool!.


To what extent, amount, or degree
How bad was it?.


How much; in what respect; how
What does it matter?.


Does "how" imply a need for detailed explanation?

Often, especially when asking about methods.

What does "how" indicate?

Indicates inquiry into manner, method, or condition.

Can "how" be used to ask about feelings?

Yes, like "How are you feeling?"

Is "how" always about processes?

Mostly, but it can also inquire about states or conditions.

Can "how" be used in rhetorical questions?

Yes, like "How could you do that?"

What does "what" inquire about?

It asks about identity, nature, or specifics of something.

Does "what" have multiple functions in questions?

Yes, it can ask for definitions, specifics, or clarifications.

In what context is "how" used in casual conversation?

Often in asking about well-being or experiences.

Can "what" start a question seeking elaboration?

Yes, like "What do you think about this?"

How does "what" differ from "which"?

"What" is more general, while "which" implies options.

Is "what" used in closed-ended questions?

Frequently, especially for specific information.

Does "what" imply a broader range of questions than "how"?

Yes, as it covers identity, types, and specifics.

Is "how" used in formal contexts?

Yes, in both formal and informal contexts.

Can "how" be used to ask about intensity?

Yes, like "How loud was the music?"

Does "what" always require a factual answer?

Mostly, but it can also lead to opinions or thoughts.

How are "how" and "what" similar?

Both are used to gather information.

Can "what" be used to express surprise?

Yes, like "What! Really?"

How does context affect the use of "how" and "what"?

Context determines the nature and scope of the information sought.

Are "how" and "what" interchangeable?

No, they serve different purposes in questioning.

Can "how" be used in questions about quantity?

Yes, like "How many people attended?"
About Author
Written by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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