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How...? and What ... like? - Func. Grammar
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On the “How …? / What … like?” affair!

We recorded this language tip in a podcast episode we published on the TP Podcast, called "Useful Language. Talking about your winter holidays" external link

How…?
is used in health questions: How are you? How’s your mum? How’s your friend? (she was not feeling well the other day).

What … like?
is used to find out about somebody’s character (and looks, though for looks there’s the more straightforward “What … look like?”). What is your friend like? (her/his character – and looks) (I’d like to meet your friend but first I would like to know if we would get on, or if I would like her/his character /+ looks)

How…? / What…like? for experiences. Sometimes there is not much difference: How was your holiday? Fine. I managed to survive! What was your holiday like? It was great! Sometimes with the “how” phrase we just want to get a general comment -- it’s like an ice breaker, really! And then if we want to know more we turn to “what was it like, then?” because it seems to imply we are expecting a longer description. But of course, this is no rule.

How…? / What…look like? for appearance. “How do I look?” is about checking if the outfit or make up you’re wearing is OK. Fantastic! That outfit really suits you / You look great! ”What does he look like?” is finding out about his physical appearance! For a different explanation, check the BBC out external link