It’s all too easy to get certain words and phrases mixed up in English, especially for non-native speakers. The phrases “what it looks like” and “how it looks like” are great examples of this. Only of these is correct, so let’s look at them.
Which Is Correct: “What It Looks Like” Or “How It Looks Like”?
“What it looks like” is the correct phrase when you want a description of what something looks like. Generally, we ask it when we can’t see something or have yet to see it. “How it looks like” uses the wrong interrogative pronoun “how” to determine the answer, which is incorrect.
The meaning of using the phrase “what it looks like,” according to The Cambridge Dictionary, is “something you say to ask someone to describe someone or something.”
We can apply this meaning to the phrase, in general, to find out that when we ask “what it looks like,” we want to know how someone might describe the thing, and we’re usually looking for a more detailed answer.
Is It Correct To Say “How It Looks Like”?
That brings us to the phrase “hot it looks like.” It’s a surprisingly common mistake, even for some native speakers. However, it’s never correct to say, and you must learn this if you’re planning to use the two phrases yourself.
“How it looks like” is incorrect because it uses “how” to ask someone to describe the look of something. “How” is the wrong interrogative pronoun in this case, as we need “what” when we want to determine the description of something we’re not familiar with.
It’s common for non-native speakers to make this mistake because they might not be familiar with all the language rules associated with “how” and “what.” However, if you want to determine something that you’re unfamiliar with, then “what” is always the answer.
Also, the phrase “how it looks” is a correct saying used to make a value judgment rather than give a specific description. Since this is a real and correct phrase, many people often fuse the sayings “how it looks” and “what it looks like” to create the incorrect “how it looks like.”
Should I Say “How It Looks” Or “What It Looks Like”?
Now’s a good time to look at the differences between the two sayings. Both “how it looks” and “what it looks like” are correct, but it’s important to dive deeper into this before we make any final calls.
If you look at this graph, you can see that “what it looks like” is the most common choice because it is correct. “How it looks” is also a popular choice, but it’s used in a different context. “How it looks like” is unpopular but still gets used occasionally.
Since we’re looking at the information given through literature (usually novels) in the graph, it tells us that even authors make the mistake of using the wrong phrase sometimes. If an author can do it, then it’s no surprise that non-native learners do it too!
The other two phrases make sense to be seen in literature. One is used to find out a specific description of something (“what it looks like”), and the other is asking for a value judgment (“how it looks”).
The point is; even if you’re still making a mistake with the phrase, it’s not the end of the world. While most native speakers know the difference between correct and incorrect forms, they can still easily make mistakes. “How it looks like” should be at zero the whole way across the graph, but it wasn’t, showing even English speakers struggle with it sometimes.
What Does “How It Looks” Mean?
Let’s go over what “how it looks” means and how we might use it in a sentence. We’ve spoken about it a few times in this article, but we’re yet to actually touch on the definition.
Asking someone “how it looks” is used to ask for a value judgment of a particular thing. A typical response would be to some something up as “good,” “bad,” or some other adjective to describe it. It rarely gets more specific than that.
“How it looks” is seen as the more general of the two questions.
It’s common to replace “it” in the phrase with an object that you want to know about the looks of. For example:
- How the statue looks
- How the makeup looks
- How the school looks
All of these sayings are correct ways to interpret the overall question. We typically want to include the object to let people know exactly what we’re talking about before giving them a chance to answer.
As we’ve said, the adjective you answer with can be anything you want, but generally, we only use one adjective to answer.
- It looks good.
- It looks bad.
- It looks pretty.
These are the most common responses (or any other adjective) you’ll see when someone asks “how it looks.” We start by saying “it looks” to refer to the object in question, then we talk about our own judgment of it.
How To Use “How It Looks” In A Sentence
Let’s go over a few examples of how we might use “how it looks” in a sentence. However, we’ve already briefly touched on the expected answers and questions you might include, so we’ll also include the incorrect version of “how it looks like.” That’ll help you understand what’s right and what’s wrong.
Remember, “how it looks” is used to find out what something looks like, typically with a simple one-word adjective answer to keep it as a general or vague value judgment.
- Correct:Can you let me know how it looks to decide if I want to go?
- Incorrect:Tell me how the statue looks like?
- Correct:What can you tell me about how the school looks?
- Incorrect:Do you know how it looks like?
- Correct:I should mention how it looks so you can make a better decision.
- Incorrect:Let me know how the museum looks from the inside!
- Correct:Can you tell me how my makeup looks?
- Incorrect:Could I ask you how my haircut looks like?
- Correct:I don’t like how this game looks.
- Incorrect:I’m not sure I like how it looks like.
Typically, we use the phrase in question form, though the last two examples also show it in statement form. It’s up to you how you want to use it; just make sure you use the correct phrase “how it looks” and leave “like” out of the end.
What Does “What It Looks Like” Mean?
We now should take some time to look at “what it looks like” and how it works in a sentence. It’s similar to “how it looks” in the sense that we can replace “it” with any object that we want to ask the description of.
“What it looks like” is used to find a more specific description of an object. We ask for someone to explain the object in greater detail to help us decide on it. Usually, we wouldn’t have seen this object ourselves and want to know more about it.
The phrases might look as follows:
- Can you tell me what the trophy looks like?
- I don’t care what it looks like; I just want it here!
- Is it okay if you tell me what the office looks like?
As you can see, we’re asking the question or making a statement in a similar manner to “how it looks.” However, the acceptable answers are usually more specific, like:
- It looks strong, and it’s made of gold with a little logo on the front.
- It looks like something inappropriate that I don’t want to mention again!
- It looks expansive and can easily fit maybe thirty desks in there if that’s your goal.
These are the general responses you might hear after asking “what it looks like.” They’re much more detailed and typically use more than one descriptive word. They’re also more closely linked to the context, allowing us to explore the description of something related to what someone asked for specifically (in the case of the office example and needing thirty desks).
Is It Correct To Say “What It Looks Like”?
It is grammatically correct to say or ask “what it looks like.” You can either ask a question to find out how something looks with good detail, or you can make a statement saying that you don’t mind what something looks like (generally, if you already know about the object).
- I don’t care what it looks like.
- What does it look like?
How To Use “What It Looks Like” In A Sentence
Finally, let’s go over some examples of the correct phrase being used so you can start trying it out yourself.
- I’d like to know more about what it looks like before I make a decision.
- What does it look like, and how can I find out more about it?
- Can you tell me more about what the course looks like?
- I’d like to talk to you about what it looks like.
- Have you asked what it looks like?
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Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.