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Would the phrase "How does it look like?" possibly make sense in any situation in English?

For many non-native speakers, it is hard to understand why "How does it look like?" is wrong and "What does it look like?" is correct. An example situation (perhaps, a very rare and a very specific one), in which "How does it look like?" makes sense would help them a lot.

Small remark: In this question I am not asking for explanation of the meaning of a phrase, but quite the opposite --- I am asking to find a meaning for a phrase. So the preposition in the title is "for", not "of". Please, don't edit that.

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    "does it looks"???
    – gotube
    Commented Jul 5, 2021 at 4:20
  • Here's a helpful link
    – Victor B.
    Commented Jul 5, 2021 at 6:58
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    I see a lot of native German and Dutch speakers make this mistake, probably due to contamination from "Wie [= how] sieht es aus?" or "Hoe [= how] ziet het eruit?"
    – Thomas
    Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 7:03
  • It's the same error when a nonnative speaker asks: "How is ‘XYZ’ called?” instead of using the interrogative pronoun "What".
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 12:16
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    @Thomas I'm Dutch myself too. For those who aren't: The proper translation in Dutch of "What does it look like" is "Waar lijkt het op?". The meaning of the 2 phrases "Waar lijkt het op" and "Hoe ziet het er uit?" is exactly the same as in English. In Dutch we seem to have developed a preference to use the 2nd phrase even in places were the first version would be more appropriate. And that seems to invoke the contamination Thomas mentioned.
    – Tonny
    Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 8:49

4 Answers 4

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Would phrase "How does it look like?" possibly make sense in any situation in English?

Yes. ;-)

An example situation (perhaps, a very rare and a very specific one), in which "How does it look like?" makes sense would help them a lot.

Challenge accepted. Understand this will be convoluted (and contrived) like nobody's business and relies on the fact that there are multiple meanings to individual words in the question. Also, have you seen 'Silence of the Lambs'?

Anyhow, after Buffalo Bill goes through the whole 'It rubs the lotion on its skin' business, he tells the girl to behave in a certain manner and checks she understands him:

"It looks adoringly up at me, like a pet that loves its master" he tells her. "Does it look around like a frightened mouse desperately seeking escape?"

"No" says his victim.

"And does it look at me like a disobedient dog, just waiting for me > to turn my back so it can attack me?"

Again, the girl shakes her head and says 'No".

"So", says Buffalo Bill, "how does it look like?"

"It looks up at you like a pet that loves its master", she replies, between sobs.

Definitely rare and specific.

I was going to suggest the question may be syntactically correct in Valleyspeak where the word 'like' is regularly inserted in or appended to spoken sentences - "So, like, how does it look, like?" - but I think that would only add more confusion to the issue for people new to the language.

Even so, that's two situations.

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  • WOW! This is just amazing! Exactly what I was asking for. Thank you!
    – brilliant
    Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 23:04
  • D/V comments would be appreciated ...
    – mcalex
    Commented Jul 20, 2021 at 7:40
  • You have provided an example of the phrase being used but the phrase is only given meaning by the writer/directory of the work of fiction. Without the subsequent response from the fictional character the phrase has no meaning. Anyone can do this - How's the were gone went? They went quickly and vanished afterwards. The sensible answer does not make the question sensible.
    – EllieK
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 15:01
  • I don't agree. The work of fiction provides context, but that context is not imaginary. I could have described a bedroom scene where humiliation bdsm is being played out, however: "Also have you seen 'Silence of the Lambs?" said that in a lot less words, and without readers casting aspersions in my direction ;-). There are two controversial bits as I see it. The substitution of 'it' for the gendered pronoun (not unknown in bdsm circles), and the alternate (but perfectly valid) interpretation of 'looks like?' - not as 'appears how?' - but as 'uses perception of sight in what manner?'.
    – mcalex
    Commented Oct 1, 2022 at 17:03
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    While writers are of course free to play with language, this example would sound more natural to me as "how does it look?", without "like".
    – nschneid
    Commented Oct 1, 2022 at 19:04
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This question structure is a common mistake, made by combining two common questions: "How does it look?" and "What does it look like?"

"Look like" needs a noun object, while "look" needs an adjective or adverb after it. "What" is the interrogative pronoun (question word) for nouns, and "how" is the interrogative pronoun for certain adjectives and adverbs, including "good".

We can figure this out for ourselves by looking at the statement structure of both correct questions, the comparing it to this bad question.

a) The cloud looks beautiful. -> b) The cloud looks how. -> c) How does the cloud look __ x __?

In a), "beautiful" is an adjective that describes the cloud. In b), how replaces "beautiful". In c), we make it a question by moving "how" to the front of the sentence, leaving nothing (the "x") where "beautiful" used to be. The underlying grammar and parts of speech have not changed.

a) The cloud looks like a boat. -> b) The cloud looks like what. -> c) What does the cloud look like __ x __?

In a), "a boat" is a noun being compared with the cloud. In b), "what" is the interrogative pronoun that replaces "a boat". In c), "what" moves to the front of the sentence and we make it into a question, leaving nothing where "a boat" used to be. Again, the grammar is consistent throughout.

Now, if we try to do the same thing with "How does it look like?", it's impossible, because after "look like" we need a noun object, but we're using the pronoun "how", which cannot replace a noun.

a) The cloud looks like a boat/good??? -> b) The cloud looks like How/what?? -> c) How does the cloud look like?

So the question is impossible to understand because we cannot tell whether it refers to an adjective/adverb or a noun.

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How does it look like? on its own is like asking, How does it resemble? It's meaningless without an object.

How means in what way or manner; by what means.
So your phrase might be used as follows:

[in what way or manner:]
"That hoverfly looks like a wasp."
"How does it look like a wasp?"
"It has yellow and black stripes."

[by what means:]
"This octopus can look like a lionfish."
"How does it look like a lionfish?"
"It alters its shape and colouration."

But in this context we would usually say, "make itself look like", or simply "mimic".

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    On the first paragraph, I think part of the confusion for some people comes from the phrase "What does it look like?" being interpreted as always meaning "What (specifically) does it resemble?", as opposed to a more general "How would you describe it?". Not that the latter wouldn't sound weird in most contexts either, of course ;)
    – user81621
    Commented Jul 5, 2021 at 11:23
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    "How does it look like?" is usually not a question about the physical appearance of something. I suppose a pedant might insist the correct version is "To what is it similar?" - since pedants don't end sentences with propositions!
    – alephzero
    Commented Jul 5, 2021 at 16:36
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    @RonJohn: The OP asked for "an example situation (perhaps, a very rare and a very specific one), in which How does it look like? makes sense." My examples are only intended as that! The second one sounds awkward, and - as I said - we would usually ask, "How does it make itself look like..." Yes, you're right: in example 1 "Why does it..." would also be idiomatic, though it is ambiguous. It might mean, "For what reason does it resemble a wasp?" [Answer: "To deter predators."] Or it might mean, "Why do you think it looks like a wasp?" [Answer: "It has yellow and black stripes."] Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 13:13
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    @tristan I'm confused. Are you claiming that native speakers would consider "How does it look like?"grammatical? I'm sure some might say it, but I would assume all or almost all would consider it ungrammatical.
    – DRF
    Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 16:51
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    @DRF plenty of native speakers produce it spontaneously, and hear it without considering it ungrammatical. This is most common in AAVE, and very unusual outside of it
    – Tristan
    Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 8:53
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This construction is not allowed per traditional grammar (as like is normally a preposition, requiring an object), but is not especially unusual in informal contexts from younger speakers (especially speakers of African American Vernacular English)

It seems to be a conflation of the two questions "how does it look" (which it has the same meaning as) and "what does it look like", but behaves quite differently, as in this construction, the "like" is not the usual preposition, and does not require an object, instead "look like" behaves more like a phrasal verb like "wake up"

Many speakers (especially older, white, and non-American speakers) will regard it as a mistake, but some (especially younger AAVE speakers) will accept it without question, especially in informal contexts. As a learner of English, you are best off avoiding it in your own speech

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  • "What's the weather like?” must be perfectly grammatical, even to the most diehard purists. Where else would you place "like"?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 12:19
  • @Mari-LouA "like what is the weather?" Although most pedants are a lot less strict with many of their rules (especially not ending sentences with a preposition) than they'd like to think. Ultimately, that sort of pedantry is the sort of thing up with which one need not put (especially as the supposed rule has never been a part of actual English grammar, and was imported from Latin)
    – Tristan
    Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 13:32
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    "Like what is the weather?"Is using "like" as a filler but makes little sense unlike the following: "Like we went down to the pool, and like hung out.” The question is actually asking for a definition of the weather?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 13:45
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    it's not using it like a filler, that would be "like, what is the weather?" "like what is the weather" has "like what" as a single syntactic constituent and is perfectly sound, even if extremely awkward to any native speaker's ear
    – Tristan
    Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 14:40
  • you could go for "the weather is like what?" instead, but the lack of inversion adds another layer of clunk to an already clunky phrasing. In practice, native speakers would almost exclusively leave the preposition at the end of the sentence
    – Tristan
    Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 14:41

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