[A] Behind the flat job figures are changes in how we live now (The Age)

Can’t how in above sentence have the function of the fused [free] relative? I mean, can the how have the meaning of ‘the way that’ or ‘the way in which’? A Korean English-grammar book says the how in the next sentence has the fused relative function: [B] Do it how you can.
But I don’t find the explanation in CGEL, and it even says the relative word, how, hardly occurs in fused relatives and it is quite marginal. (CGEL,p.1076).
So I'm confused if I can use this expression: [C] ‘The important thing is how we live’, intending to say ‘The important thing is the way in which we live’ Can I or is it only meaning ‘The important thing is in what way we live’?

  • I think your are right. "Do it however you can" would be better.
    – Kinzle B
    Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 14:16
  • I would call your uses fused relatives, and I find this use common and acceptable (although I would agree with @ZhanlongZheng's comment). It is true however that how is almost never used as a bound relative, so CGEL may be defining fused relative more narrowly than I would. Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 15:13
  • Is it possible that this is related to CGEL's distinction between fused relatives and interrogatives? Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 17:52
  • @StoneyB,In the bed last night, I remembered posting the question you’ve linked, and thought I would re-read the answer. You’ve saved my effort to search it. Thank you very much.
    – Listenever
    Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 23:02

1 Answer 1


In typical English usage (at least in the United States),

The important thing is how we live

would be interpreted as meaning "The thing that matters is the way in which we live." How typically means "the process by which something is done," and keeps that meaning in this case.

"How" is a bit flexible grammatically. For instance, "I learned how to speak English" could be restated, "I learned the process by which I can speak English." At the same time, "The thing that matters is the way in which we live" could be restated, "The thing that matters is the process by which we live."

In the first example, "how" has a larger role, but both are correct uses.

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