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I understand

  • What do you think of it?
  • What do you call this (in English)?

are correct while

  • *How do you think of it?
  • *How do you call this (in English)?

are incorrect because the thing being asked about is a grammatical object (complement) which should be asked by what.

My question is to what extent How do you... variants above sound wrong to native speakers? As asked in this question and others, there is at least some semantic reason to think how can be used above. Do they sound completely strange/nonsensical or is it that they sound strange but will be understood as what variants or that they will be understood as meaning something different?


A few things that led me to the question.

  • In many other languages words equivalent to how are used (e.g. Wie denken Sie darüber in German; Comment s'appelle... in French)
  • I think I heard How do you think..? in a film. I don't remember the actor was a native English speaker but it should have been an American film.

I understand this might be off-topic as opinion based, but any input appreciated.

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"How" means 'in what way' or 'by what method/means'.

So, asking "how do you feel?" is correct because it asks for the way that you feel.

Thoughts and feelings are spoken of differently in English. What a person thinks is usually the end result of their thinking; the way that they thought is the method or thought process they used to arrive at their conclusion.

This is why we would normally ask "what do you think?" as an invitation to tell us precisely what thoughts the person had. Asking "how do you think?" sounds like an invitation to tell us their thought process.

Regarding your side comments on other languages - it is a common trope in English media to portray European people speaking English by mixing up these very two words, 'what' and 'how', a commonly used example being "how do you say...?" as a rhetorical question to introduce something specific they are calling to mind. For asking about something specific, "what" would be more appropriate.

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"What do you think of..." and "How do you think of..." are both correct but have different meanings. "What" is much more usual.

"What do you think of socialism?" means "What is your opinion of socialism?".

"How do you think of socialism?" means something more like "How do you conceptualise socialism?" and invites an answer about what philosophical ideas you apply to your analysis.

"What do you think of unusual first names?" means "What is your opinion about unusual first names?".

"How do you think of unusual first names?" means "What is the process through which you come up with unusual first names?".

"What do you call your son?" asks what his name is.

"How do you call your son?" asks you whether you use your voice or if you ring a bell or click a button in an app when you want his attention.

That said, if a non-native speaker says "How do you call..." or "How is ... called?" then it's usually obvious what they mean. But it is not what we would understand to be the real meaning of the question in the way that they've phrased it.

I think I heard How do you think..? in a film.

If the full sentence was "How do you think it makes me feel?" then it could make perfect sense, and would be the same in meaning as "What do you think it makes me feel like?", which is almost the same thing as "What do you think it makes me feel?", but not quite. (The "what" version of the question would invite a response such as "Anger", whereas the "how" and "what like" versions would invite a response such as "Angry" - although the answerer won't necessarily reply directly, and such questions are usually rhetorical anyway.)

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