I cannot recall where exactly but in a book that discussed some common mistakes in English I got to read about why the sentence What is it called in English? is purely (or at least highly) ungrammatical. In LDOCE 5th edition, there is the following entry:

the entry of the verb 'to call' in LDOCE 5th edition

In this sense, the above-mentioned sentence is correct (?) but these alternatives were offered if one is to ask such a question:

What is друг in English? (friend)

What is the English equivalent for Liebeskummer? (pangs of love)

How do you say un mirroir in English? (a mirror)

Does that question really sound that outlandish or is the author being the grammar police?

(The book also mentions that if I am holding or pointing to an object, I can ask What is this called in English? but I have never asked it, to be honest.)

  • You can certainly indicate something (e.g. a picture or an object) or describe it, and ask "What is this (or that) called in English?". Entirely grammatical and idiomatic. – Michael Harvey Jan 19 at 21:15
  • What is this called in English? is okay, but How is this called in English? isn't used in that sense. – user3395 Jan 19 at 22:14
  • 1
    Does this answer your question? "How is this called" vs "What is this called"? – user3395 Jan 19 at 22:14

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