Daily English Discussion–Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Hi everyone,

Let me try to solve the confusion between “What do you think about this book?” and “How do you think about this book?”

People use both of these the same way, for the same meaning.

But, let’s try to be sophisticated and ask: Which one is REALLY correct?

We can answer this by using grammatical structure.

“What” in a question always stands for a noun (or a noun equivalent). Example: What is this? Answer: This is a book. “What” in the question is the equivalent of the noun “book” in the answer.

Now look at “What you do think about this book?” Answer: I think about this book… We CANNOT add a noun (for “what”) to this answer, can we?

On the other hand, “how” stands for a status, a state of affair, a condition. Example: How do you feel about her. Answer: About her, I feel very unhappy. “Very unhappy” is the state of mind about her.

So, how do you think about this book? Answer: I think about this book that it is outstanding. “It is outstanding” is a statement about the status or condition of the book.

Switch the words around a little, to make the reading more natural: About this book, I think that it is outstanding.

So, technically, “How do you think about…” is correct and “what do you think about…” is incorrect.

But people use both of them equally. So they both may be considered correct by usage. But “how do you think about…” is more sophisticated English.

Some different examples:

What do you think he will do?
What do you think this sentence means?
What do you think mother will say about this?


How do you think he will handle this issue?
How do you think the election will go?


We have the question on Mr. Pham Minh Ha’c proposal from yesterday. Thanks, Stone, for answering. We can continue discussing this important issue.

Another matter is argument on the Internet. Most of the time, I feel that arguments in Internet forums sound like childish bickering. Everyone talks past each other and none makes much sense.

How do you feel about Internet discussion in general?


We have a bunch of Bee Gees songs chi Hue has just posted for translation. If you translate several songs, it may be better to post all of them into one post, instead of spreading them out into too many posts. Thanks a million.

That’s it for today. Have a great day!


Một suy nghĩ 7 thoughts on “Daily English Discussion–Tuesday, July 14, 2009”

  1. Dear H,

    Thanks for your explanation about the English point,

    In regards of the Internet discussion, I think it is the greatest challenge of human communication. If communication reflects the points of views of people in real world, the internet communication reflects both the real and the virtual.

    While Internet is becoming more popular, it definitely changed our lives in some ways. People nowadays are confused with physical and digital lives, online and offline activities, as the outcome of the combination of real and virtual contacts on internet. In the endless flow of information of Internet, we are not sure which one is real and which on is virtual. Therefore, we absolutely formed a higher level of suspicious attitude towards internet communication, in compare with realistic communication. By this way, people are mostly suspicious to each other when they discuss on Internet and arguments are unavoidable. Even in a real contact, when we suspect each other, we may have arguments as well. Therefore, arguments on Internet discussion should be seen at another perspective.

    While life is complicated, Internet discussion is the reflection of that complication. While realistic communication has three main purposes: to inform, to instruct and to persuade, virtual communication formed another purpose: to entertain. And while there are many different kinds of people in real world, there are definitely virtual different kinds of people in virtual world. In regard of arguments on internet, there is a key resolution to apply for any kind of communication or subjects, whether its “real” or “virtual”, whether it’s “serious” or “entertaining”: just say what they want to hear and do not reply while you’re not in the mood of communication (being angry or tired). As a matter of fact, this is not a clear-cut resolution for arguments on internet, but it does make sense of a resolution, I think.



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  2. Hi. It’s quite interesting to read Mr. Hoanh’s attempt “to solve the confusion between “What do you think about this book?” and “How do you think about this book?” ”. However, there seems to be some “confusion” to me about what he has tried to explain. My opinion about this problem is as following:
    1. Let’s look up the meanings of “THINK” in Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary
    1.1. Think = have opinion.
    In this case, “What do you think about this book?” has the same meaning as “What is your opinion about this book?” The answer should never be “I think about this book …” (as Mr. Hoanh said). Instead, the correct answer should be “I think it interesting” (i.e. we can add an adjective after the object it to express our idea/ opinion about the book). Another way to answer such question may be “Well, I like it. What do you think?” The question “What do you think about this book?” in this case is, therefore, absolutely correct.

    1.2. Think = use our mind to consider something, to form connected ideas, to try to solve the problem.
    In this case, the speaker who asks the question “What do you think about this book?” may want to know the listener’s suggestion about how to solve the problem(s) / question(s) brought up in the book. The answer, therefore, may be “I think that the book …. (a suggestive solution)” The question “What do you think about this book?” in this case is, again, absolutely correct.

    2. “How” in “How do you think about this book?” can be understood in two different ways:
    2.1. How = How about: In this case, “do you think” is just a polite/ formal way of expression (as Mr. Hoanh has given examples in “What do you think he will do?” instead of “What will he do?”, “What do you think this sentence means? for What does this sentence mean?”, “What do you think mother will say about this? for “What will mother say about this?”) The answers then may be like those in 1.1. or “It is outstanding” or “About this book, I think that it is outstanding.” as Mr. Hoanh wrote.
    “What do you think about this book?” and “How do you think about this book?” may be both used for the same meaning then, and they BOTH ARE ACCEPTABLE. However, the latter seems to be more common in spoken English, while the former is far more correct in writing English. So, I’m afraid that it is not really correct to come to the conclusion that “what do you think about…” is incorrect and that “how do you think about…” is more sophisticated English.
    2.2. How = In what manner (as an adverb): In this case, the interrogative word “How’’must be replaced by an adverb, modifying the verb “think”. So, the question “How do you (often) think about …?”/ “How had you thought about …?” can have the answer: “I often think it over and over ” or “I had thought very deeply about it.”
    Thank for reading.
    Ama Dak

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  3. Dear Brother/Sister Ama Dak,

    Thanks for the thoughtful response. Since we know that both sentences are correct, this discussion is more or less for fun, and maybe a chance to sharpen our English reasoning a little. So let’s do a bit more fencing before we stop, OK? 🙂

    1. “How” is an adverb in form, but in meaning it doesn’t always modify a verb. Ex: How do you feel? I feel sad. “Sad” is an adjective and it modifes “I”, although “sad” stands in place of “how” here.

    “To think” operates almost like “to feel” at times. Ex: I think this rule unfair. “Unfair” is an adjective modifying “rule.”

    So, it is naturally for “how” and “to think” to go together, not as an adverb modifying a verb, but (in meaning) as an adjective modifying a subject or an object.

    How do you think about this book? I think this book very educational.

    This is exactly like: “How do you consider this book?” Answer: “I consider this book very educational.”

    2. About “what”, bro/sis Ama, you have not responded to my main issue.

    “What” stands for a noun. Ex: What is this? This is a book. “What” stands for the noun “book”.

    If we say “What do you think about this book?” then the answer is “I think about this book….” The space “….” is for a noun that the word “what” replaces. We cannot add a noun here, can we?

    If we add “that it is good” then this statement is really an adjective equivalent, not a noun equivalent.

    Have a great day! 🙂

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  4. Dear Bro. Hoanh and all,
    Thank you for consider mine as “the thoughtful response”. I do agree with you that “this discussion is more or less for fun”, as well as “a chance to sharpen our English” and I really don’t want to trap myself in any argument at all. However, some of my acquaintances still get confused; so I think we should “do a bit more fencing before we stop”.
    1. As far as I know, “How”, as an interrogative adverb, is often used to make a question when the speaker wants to know in what way or manner someone does something. In the answer, “how” is usually replaced by an adverb to modify the verb. Ex: “How does your computer work?” – “It works well, thanks”. “How” is also used with the verb BE to ask for someone’s health or feeling. Ex: “How are you? / How are you feeling?”. Intensively, “How” is also used to ask whether something is successful or interesting. Ex: “How was your trip back to Vietnam?”. In such the way, instead of asking “How is the book?”, we may ask “What do you think about the book?”. Some verbs called “linking verbs” may be used in place of BE, and FEEL is one of them. So, your example “How do you feel? I feel sad” is in this case. After a linking verb, we often use an adjective and “sad” is used as a predicate of the subject “I”. Frankly, I can’t explain precisely why English people use “How”, an adverb in form as you said, in this question and replace an adjective for it in the answer. ( Hi hi! If only I were an English man or an English grammarian!). However, it is easy to agree that spoken English had appeared long before written English did and grammar rules are just set to help us express ourselves clearer and more understandable. So, even though grammarians are trying set rules to make the structures precise, they have to accept some ways of expressions used by their ancestors.
    2. About “what” in your main issue. It’s clear that “What” stands for a noun. In case of the question, “What do you think about this book?”, the answer “I think about this book….” sounds strange and the space “….” is then not for a noun that the word “what” replaces at all. In my opinion, the answer “I think it interesting” is the short form of “I think that it is interesting.” The noun clause “that it is interesting” here is regarded as the object of “think”. That is why we should use “What” in the question. The structure “I think/ find it (a pronoun for the noun in the question) + adjective (as a modifier) “ is commonly used because it is shorter and easier to say. As far as I know, the verb “consider” means “to think about something carefully (before making a decision)”. So I doubt if we can ask “How do you consider this book?” in place of “What do you think about this book?”. Therefore, if my teacher asks me “How do you consider this book?”, my answer may be “ I do always consider it seriously, sir.“ (an adverb to modify “consider”). I also know that “consider” may be followed by an object and an object complement to express one’s thinking of something/ someone in a particular way. Ex: “Many people still don’t consider the climate changes (O.) global serious problems (O. C)”. The question for this is to begin with “What”, isn’t it?
    Of course, what I am writing here is just what I have experienced during my learning English. Just read with relaxation, won’t you?

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  5. Thank you, Ama Dak. I guess we can make it a draw now 🙂

    The ultimate truth is that language grows like a tree, not necessarily following any fixed rational rule. And as you said, verbal language comes first, grammar follows later. Using grammatical rules to judge language is like using the child to explain the mother.

    But grammatical rule is the only concrete thing we can use to argue, if we want to argue 🙂

    I guess now is the time to go somewhere for a relaxing cup of coffee… and maybe… more arguing in the coffee shop. Shall we? 🙂

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