8

Can anyone tell me the difference between How about and What about in the following sentences?

What should I say: What about her or How about her ?

And,

Should I say What about playing cards or How about playing cards?

  • 1
    They are interchangeable in the example you've given. Both mean "Why don't we play cards!" or "Let's play cards" -- an invitation or suggestion. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 10 '16 at 10:54
  • They may be practically interchangeable, but the mental experience of a native speaker hearing them is slightly different. english.stackexchange.com/a/460743/443 – iconoclast Aug 20 '18 at 2:40
7

There is some difference in usage between how about and what about.

If you are planning something with a friend and you want to raise some potential problem, you would only use what about- effectively as a short form for what shall we do about.... If you want to suggest a new idea or a possible solution to a problem, you can use either what about or how about.

Person A: How about/what about going sailing tomorrow! -suggestion
Person B: Nice idea, but what about the kids? - potential problem
Person A: Could we get somebody to baby sit?
Person B: How about/what about your neighbour's daughter? - suggested solution

Looking at your sentences:

what about/how about her? -if she's a suggestion or a solution
what about her? - if she's a potential problem.

.

What about/how about playing cards? -playing cards is a suggestion

  • 2
    It sounds good in theory, but in practice I don't buy the idea that What about X? is more appropriate than How about X? if X is a problem, rather than a suggestion/solution. Google Books claims 136,000 instances of How about the cost, but only 19,100 What about the cost, and I'd say cost is always a problem, never a solution. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Sep 10 '16 at 12:38
  • @FumbleFingers: That's curious: with Ngram it's clearly the other way round... books.google.com/ngrams/… What's more interesting is that if you separate out BrE and AmE, none of the how about the cost references are BrE: and I am writing from a BrE perspective. – JavaLatte Sep 10 '16 at 14:51
  • Very strange. Being British myself, I suppose I must have a BrE perspective too, but I don't think the lack of BrE how about the cost in your NGram necessarily implies any US/UK usage split (there are actually only 32 instances in total). Looking at my first comment again, I can see it might be taken as implying I thought the opposite distinction applied, but actually what I meant was I think the two forms are effectively interchangeable (though individual speakers may have preferences). Which I still think, though I don't understand those conflicting Books / NGrams results. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Sep 10 '16 at 15:47
  • I don't know if they're enough to be statistically significant, but there are 7 hits in Books for how about the downside, against a "guestimated" 2100 for what about the downside (which turns out to be just 25 if you scroll to the third page of results). In which context it may be relevant that downside had negligible currency until a few decades ago, and is more AmE than BrE even today. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Sep 10 '16 at 15:57
  • @FumbleFingers, I have added links to my answer that back up my assertion that what about is more likely to be used for "what shall we do about" situations (see item 4 in what about). – JavaLatte Sep 10 '16 at 16:22

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