In the Longman Dictionary of Common Errors you read "When you ask for or give a discription of someone or something, use what ... like (NOT how): 'What's your new teacher like?' "
But I sometimes hear people say things like "How is your new teacher?" as a way of asking someone to describe someone or something.
To me, the response to that question could be "She's fine", not a description of the teacher's appearance or behavior, since I think of it as a question about someone's health or life condition, i.e. if they are well, happy, etc.
What about "How's the weather?" and "What's the weather like?" ? Do you see any difference?
Is it that the former is used to ask a question about if the whether is good or bad in a specific situation, and the latter to ask about the general weather conditions in a place? So one can say "What's the weather usually like in Torronto?" and the answer would be "Dry and cold." (I'm not really sure about the weather conditions there, though!), and "How's the weather today?" followed by the response "It's sunny today"
Or do they have the same meaning?

2 Answers 2


I think you understand things correctly.

How is used to ask about the quality/degree of something, or the manner in which something was done. When you ask someone how is X, they may respond with a details in a similar manner as what, but the reason is to communicate a quality/degree - typically "good" or "bad."


How is your teacher?

She's this really weird tall lady with these crazy glasses, and she was yelling at everyone today.

The implication here is that she considers the teacher a bit intimidating, so somewhat "bad." And that's what the person asking how really wanted to know.

What's X like to me, implies that you are less interested in the person's personal feelings - rather, you want to know how X compares to other X's - than how's does. But this can be influenced either way greatly by context.

Q: What's the weather like over there?

A: It snows a lot down here, and sometimes it rains.

Q: So usually, how's the weather over there?

A: It snows a lot down here. But it's raining now.

Q: How's the weather?

A: Rainy. Take a jacket.

Q: What's the weather like?

A: Today? It's rainy.

  • 1
    So, the correct form of question for the response "He has a round face" would be "What's his face like?", not "How's his face?", right? Jan 9, 2015 at 15:30
  • That's correct.
    – LawrenceC
    Jan 9, 2015 at 16:05

There has been a shift among native speakers of English, with How gaining ground over What...like over the past few decades. It is true that How connotes things like nature, essence, qualitative judgment (well, fine, poorly...) and that What...like connotes descriptive detail, but of course there is a grey area in between where both points of view are defensible. For instance, a build project is starting to look good ("How") and all the elements are now in place ("What..like") - which idiom you prefer is a toss-up, really. When I was but a tyke, the What form was mostly used in such cases, whereas nowadays I seem to hear the How form more and more often.

(It could be part of a wider trend, where speakers of English avoid or cut short "bracing" idioms, the ones that we write down with dot-dot-dot in the middle. For instance many US speakers no longer say As far as ... is concerned, but simply leave it at As far as...)

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