The German language (my mother tongue) does not offer different question words for asking for an adjective and for an adverb. In both cases Wie? is used which literally means How? in English. This raises some difficulties for English question sentences:

Is my assumption right, that for adverbs how is used and for adjectives what is ... like? For example:

For adverbs:

He was eating lunch hurriedly.
How was he eating lunch?

She worked very hard yesterday.
How did she work yesterday?

For adjectives:

Our clothes were wet because it rained cats and dogs.
What were our clothes like?

Our new car drives twice as fast as our old one.
What is the car that drives twice as fast as our old one like?

Could the forms of What is ... like be replaced with forms of How is ..., must they be replaced or would it be wrong to replace them?

  • 1
    Yout last example is not an accurate inversion. Proper inversion would be "What is our new car like? and the answer would be "It drives (sic) twice as fast as our old one." Jul 11, 2015 at 12:30
  • While your 'what is/like' questions are correct, I don't think the answer you get back will be what your looking for. You are most likely to get some version of a metaphor as response. ie: Our new car is like having a rocket strapped to a sled with no brakes.
    – Zeppie
    Dec 13, 2015 at 3:44

3 Answers 3


A rule of thumb for this is that a "how" question addresses a topic with more specificity than a "what, like" question.

If I just escaped from prison and hitch-hiked a ride out of town, the driver might ask me "What is prison like?", meaning he would like a general description of prison. If he asked me "How was Prison?", then he is interested in my particular experience in the pen.

Generally, I would say using the "how" is the safer approach in most cases when you are asking about something specific. "How were your clothes after it rained? (Soaked!) and How is the new car? (Super-fast!) are both totally acceptable. Using "what.. like" will also get you by in some cases. "What were your clothes like after it rained?" is passable. "What is the new car like?" might invoke a weird or sarcastic response "Like a tiger beetle on wheels". It is still passable, but it might sound funny to certain people.

Another thing to consider is that a "How" question demands a description of the subject.

"What was it like" invites the responder to draw a comparison to something familiar to the asker.

For example "How was India?" and "What was India like?" could possibly (though not necessarily) invite different responses.

The first might be responded to with "beautiful, but very hot and humid", while the second might provoke a more comparative description. "It reminded me of Egypt, but more humid."

I am open to correction, but I hope this helped.


'How' refers to a verb and the y way the verb is performed; 'what' is requesting some more information about a noun.

So you cannot directly replace 'What' with 'How', but you could reword the question:

What were our clothes like? - How are our clothes?

What is the car that drives twice as fast as our old one like? - How is it to drive the car that drives twice as fast as our old one?

  • So generally to ask for an adjective, the What is ... like form is used? Or could I also say How is the car that is twice as fast as our old one? Jul 10, 2015 at 9:32
  • @MinecraftShamrock - yes.
    – Steve Ives
    Jul 10, 2015 at 9:42
  • No. that would be asking about the condition of the car. How are you? I'm fine, but I have a headache. How is your car? It's running well, but it leaks oil. Jul 11, 2015 at 12:32
  • The example "how is it to drive...," completely alters the original meaning. Anyway, it could just as well (and more commonly) be put as "what is it like to drive....?" Jul 11, 2015 at 12:37

We could say "How were they dressed?" or "What were their clothes like?" The word "like" wants a nominal: Their clothes were like what?

But I should add that in non-standard colloquial speech you will sometimes hear reply-phrases such as:

They were dressed like how?

instead of

They were dressed how?

where the final word "how" expresses incredulity or amazement or some other kind of emotional response.

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