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[a] What’s the last film you saw?
[b] What do you think of the music?
[c] What do you think of it?
(Oxford University Press)

There’s no wondering in [a] why there needs to be what, not how. For what is raised from saw’s complement position. But it’s not clear for [b] and [c] for me. The two whats seem to have adverbial meaning, in what way. So I’m thinking about the possibility of what being replaced by how. But the website does not agree with my thought. Why is that?

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  • I think I know why you are troubled by this. In my first language, we literally ask [you-think-how] not [you-think-what]. Perhaps, it's quite similar to many other languages. Through my observation, I believe that most Westerners (those whom I was familiar with) usually think of a thought as a thing. Thus the question "What do you think of it?" I hope this is helpful. – Damkerng T. Dec 29 '13 at 7:53
  • I don't think you're quite right. When you click the link part, you can see how a westerner, English professor thinks about 'what'. He hear the 'what' as 'in what way'. So there would be other aspect for that. – Listenever Dec 29 '13 at 7:59
  • I just did a quick skim through his answer (I was in a hurry, I'm sorry), and I agree with him. However, a what way is still a what, isn't it? --I might not have said that clear enough, but try to think about what color hair do you have?, what kind of book do you read?, or what time is it?, they are quite related in the way they think of things. – Damkerng T. Dec 29 '13 at 8:08
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If you're trying to ask someone's opinion about a film, then you can use either of the following sentences:

What did you think of the film? (I would also normally use the past tense.)
How was the film?

In the first case, I would use "what" in the same way that I would use "what" in the following sentence:

What was your opinion of the film?

I can imagine a situation in which you would start a sentence with "How did you think...", but it would be extremely uncommon:

* How did you think about the film? (Note the use of "about" instead of "of".)

I would interpret this question to mean: "What was the thought process you used in analyzing the film?"

@Matt points out that this sentence is unidiomatic, and I would agree. The only context in which I would expect to hear it would be a film studies class in which the professor was asking me to explain the thought process I used in analyzing a film. Even then, there are probably clearer ways to express this thought.

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  • +1 for pointing out the use of How did you think about ... It's very useful. – Damkerng T. Dec 29 '13 at 14:59
  • "How did you think about the film" is extremely unidiomatic. You might be asked "How did the film make you feel" or "What are your thoughts about the film" to ask for an analysis of the film, but more generally "What did you think of the film" or "How was the film" are both idiomatic ways to say "What was your opinion of the film". – Matt Dec 30 '13 at 2:21
  • @Matt Thanks for the feedback... I've incorporated your comments into my answer. – godel9 Dec 30 '13 at 2:56
  • +1. It's true that the how sentence is strange, but it's because it's strange that it's so useful to explain what it means. Distinguishing how and what is a challenge for native speakers of many languages, and the explanation here is (in my opinion) welcome. – snailplane Dec 30 '13 at 5:33

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