I get confused between using how or using what when it comes to asking about the room rate.

Actually in general, I don't really understand the grammatical reasoning behind using one over the other. E.g. should it be "how are the housing prices in this area" or "what are the housing prices in this area"

I hope someone can really dissect this grammatical-wise, not just give me the correct answers.


  • 1
    “How” and “how much” are different questions- are you asking about both of these, as well as “what”? – Mixolydian Mar 29 '19 at 3:02
  • I guess I have all these three mixed up... – Joji Mar 29 '19 at 3:46

When you’re discussing “rates” or “prices” or “costs” you can ask any of the questions you mentioned, which have slightly different meanings:

What is the room rate?

This asks exactly what it sounds like- it’s asking for the room rate. You’d expect an answer like “The rate is $100 per night”.

How much is the room rate?

In this context “how much” is essentially the same question as “what”. You’re asking about the cost of something, which “what” is adequate for. “How much” can be asked about any sort of measurable quantity. “The rate is $100 per night” is also the type of answer you’d expect here.

But, you can also use “how much” without a word like “rate” because it’s implied you’re asking about the cost:

How much is the room?

Like before, you’d expect an answer that tells you how much it costs. There is no way “how much” can refer to anything besides cost in this context.

How is the room rate?

This is the one that is slightly different. You’re obviously asking about cost, but with this question you might want to know how it compares to other room rates, or how “good” or “bad” it is. An answer to this could be “It’s pretty good compared to other hotels in the area. The rate is only $100 per night.” Or, “It’s way too expensive*- don’t stay there.” In other words, the question is about the cost, but doesn’t require the actual cost to be part of the answer.

*edit: maybe “high” is a better word than “expensive” for describing a “rate”, but you get the idea.

  • thank you for your answer! I learned a lot. So is "how are the housing prices in this area" a valid question? – Joji Mar 31 '19 at 18:47
  • @Joji yes it is a valid question, and to elaborate on my answer above, a possible answer to “how are the prices?” could be “They are much higher (or lower) than the prices in (some other area)” but could also be “They’re pretty good” or “The average cost of a house is $200,000 in this area”. In other words, “how” allows for potentially more information than just “what” or “how much”. An equivalent question to this would be “What are housing prices like in this area?” – Mixolydian Mar 31 '19 at 19:43
  • Thank you for your prompt reply. Another quick question: for the pattern "how is sth", as you said it implies comparisons. If I know a friend who is currently travelling in some country, let's say Japan, can I ask him or her over social media like, "how's Japan?"? – Joji Mar 31 '19 at 20:20
  • @Joji “how” implies comparisons if you’re asking about prices in particular, or something that has a specific value. “How’s Japan” is a more open-ended question- no comparison is implied here. – Mixolydian Mar 31 '19 at 20:33
  • but still it would be valid to ask “How’s Japan” here right? what would the typical response be when one is asked for this? – Joji Mar 31 '19 at 20:39

How much refers to a quantity, while what refers to an object.

How much pizza did you buy? (Asks for a quantity of pizzas bought)

What pizza did you buy? (Asks for which type of pizza was bought)

In your question, they can be used interchangeably because the object is the quantity.

How much does the room cost?

What does the room cost?

They both are asking the same question.

  • I'm not sure, but I think you're answer was voted down because you didn't explain it. The question asks for a grammatical breakdown. Can you edit it to add more detail? This community frowns on short answers. – dwilli Mar 29 '19 at 3:01
  • sorry you still haven't answered my questions. Specifically, is it "how much is the room rate" or "what is the room rate"? – Joji Mar 29 '19 at 3:47
  • Cost means the same thing as rate here. Generically, the expression "room rate" is seldom used (at least in the US), but "room cost" is more commonly used. The last part of my post explains that with cost. Both "how much" and "what" ask the same question, because the quantity of how much the room will cost is also the object of what the room will cost. – medicine_man Mar 29 '19 at 3:52
  • clearly cost here is a verb. I would say it is not the same thing as rate here. Can you say how much is the room cost or what is the room cost? – Joji Mar 29 '19 at 5:14
  • Your choice of example is not a very good one since pizzas are measured by slices and/or boxes, not atoms to be treated as an uncountable noun and asked about its quantity by "how much". So you can say: "How many [pizzas/pizza slices/pizza boxes] did you order, and how much did they cost?" – Tasneem ZH Mar 29 '19 at 6:51

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