Saturday, May 14, 2011

What / how ... like?

There are several expressions that are quite similar and pose problems for learners of English because they don’t know when to use one or another. These expressions are:
  • What does she look like?
  • What is she like?
  • How does she look?
  • How is she?
We should take into account that the word like in these cases is not a verb but a preposition. When it follows the verb look, it means "to resemble" or "to be similar in appearance to".
Q: “What does she look like?” A: “She’s very pretty, with big blue eyes and blond hair”.
Image: 'Bucket-Head

On the other hand, if you ask “how does she look?” you are inquiring about her situation at that moment, not her description. For instance, if you’ve recently visited a friend who is ill in hospital and somebody asks you “How does she look?”, you might answer “She looks better”, or “She looks pale and drawn”. They are not expecting a complete physical description but rather an account of her health. However, this question is not only used for health reasons. Another example: “How did the bride look?” “Oh, she looked absolutely gorgeous”.

When you ask the question “What is she like?” you are inquiring about somebody’s character, so you are expecting an answer that explains some characteristics of that person’s personality, such as, “She’s a wonderful person, she’s kind and generous”.

If you ask “How is she?” you are inquiring about that person’s health or state of mind. The answers you could get would be: “She’s fine”..."She´s exhausted”, …"She´s depressed”... etc.

Now you know when you can use these questions, but there is one that I’ve heard people use and doesn’t exist: *”How does she look like?”* So, forget about it!

Here is an exercise for you to check what you have learnt.


  1. ¡Gracias! Tengo un examen mañana y me ha sido de mucha utilidad... (Y)

    1. ¡Me alegro! gracias a ti por pasarte por mi blog. Saludos.


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