'How Do You Think' or 'What Do You Think': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on July 5, 2023

‘How Do You Think’ or ‘What Do You Think’: What’s the Difference? You might be saying to yourself, “The difference is obvious. They’ve just changed a word.” While this is definitely true, changing just one word in a phrase can totally change the trajectory of a sentence, or in this case, a question. 

In a hurry? Here is a short overview of what you’ll learn: 

  • ‘How’ is an adverb that questions the manner of something.
  • ‘What’ is a determiner that asks for information specifying something. 
  • The phrases ‘How Do You Think’ and ‘What Do You Think’ are typically used as questions, and you will see when to use them. 

What’s the Difference Between ‘How Do You Think’ or ‘What Do You Think’?

These phrases are the prime example of how one word can totally change the meaning of a sentence or question. ‘How’ and ‘What’ are question words commonly found among others such as ‘Who,’ ‘When,’ ‘Where,’ and ‘Why,’ which are all used to determine and clarify facts. Knowing which of these questions words to use, how they work, and how to answer them will prepare you for future writing projects. 

So what is the difference between these two phrases, aside from the obvious?

To help differentiate between the two, it’s best to consider what is being questioned by the question word. 

  • ‘How Do You Think’ refers to or questions the way in which someone is thinking.
  • While ‘What Do You Think’ refers to or questions the contents or approximation that someone is thinking or thinking of. 

Another thing to keep in mind with these phrases is that they can function as sentences or questions by themselves but are often found as parts of larger sentences as well. But to break down these phrases, let’s look at ‘How’ vs ‘What’ to clarify things. 

Definition of ‘How’: What Does it Mean? 

According to Oxford Languages, ‘How’ is an adverb that means: 

  • In what way or manner; by what means (typically asked as a question)? 

It can also mean or be: 

  • Used to ask about the condition or quality of something. 
  • Used to ask about someone’s physical or mental state. 
  • Used to ask about the extent or degree of something. 
  • Used to express a strong feeling, such as surprise about the extent of something. 
  • The way in which; that 
  • In any way in which; however

Synonyms for ‘How’

  • By what means
  • By virtue of
  • To what degree
  • Whence

Phrases with ‘How’

  • How come
  • How to
  • How now 
  • Know how 

Definition of ‘What’: What Does it Mean? 

The word ‘What’ belongs to a variety of parts of speech, and the meaning/context will change depending on which you use. 

As a pronoun, Oxford Languages defines ‘What’ as:

  • Asking for information specifying something (“What is your name?”)
  • The thing or things that are used in specifying something. 

As a determiner, Oxford Languages defines ‘What’ as: 

  • Asking for information specifying something (“What time is it?”)
  • (referring to the whole of an amount) whatever. 

As an adverb, Oxford Languages defines ‘What’ as: 

  • To what extent?
  • Used to indicate an estimate or approximation. 

Phrases with ‘What’

  • What way
  • Now what
  • Whatever
  • What’s up
  • Like what?
  • You know what? 
  • It is what it is

Is ‘How Do You Think’ or ‘What Do You Think’ Correct? 

As you may have gathered, both phrases are grammatically correct, but they will yield different outcomes. The phrase ‘What Do You Think’ indicates that the questioner wants to hear the opinions of others, meanwhile ‘How Do You Think’ indicates that the questioner wants to hear the way the thoughts of others are formed. 

Here is an example of how the different phrases would interact with the same context: 

  • How do you think about your new shoes? - “You use your brain.”
  • What do you think about your new shoes? - “I think they are very stylish.” 

Using ‘How Do You Think’ or ‘What Do You Think’ in a Sentence

Given these phrases are typical questions, below you’ll see some example questions to get a feel for the variety of contexts these phrases cover. You will also see how using ‘How’ vs ‘What’ affects what questions you can ask to accurately uncover information. 

‘How Do You Think’

  • How do you think you did on your final exam in economics? 
  • How do you think we are going to make it through this crazy snowstorm? 
  • How do you think she’s doing after breaking her wrist in a car accident? 
  • How do you think I look in my homecoming dress? 

‘What Do You Think’

  • What do you think we should do for our anniversary dinner next week? 
  • What do you think of my haircut? Do the bangs frame my face? 
  • What do you think will happen in the final season of the show? 
  • What do you think is the hardest sport to qualify for in the Olympics? 

Final Advice on ‘How Do You Think’ or ‘What Do You Think’

While expanding vocabulary and learning new elaborate words is important, having a good grip on small, building block words is key to mastering written and spoken English. Knowing the difference between ‘How’ and ‘What’ will help you clarify the precise purpose of your questions and allow you to seek as much information as possible. 

Want a quick recap of what you learned? 

  • ‘How Do You Think’ questions the act of and the manner in which someone thinks and can also question the quality of subjects in a sentence. 
  • Meanwhile, ‘What Do You Think’ questions a person’s opinion on a matter and can also be used to seek specification. 
  • Both forms of the question are grammatically correct but change the context/result of the question. 

Learning question words and knowing how to use them properly can be tedious at times, but once you master them you’ll also master the English language. Confusing words can be frustrating to navigate, but our other articles can help you tackle them with ease and also help you build your grammatical arsenal. Don’t forget to pay attention to context, and remember that one small word can totally redirect the meaning of a sentence or question. 

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Written By:
Katie Moore
Katie is a recent graduate of Occidental College where she worked as a writer and editor for the school paper while studying linguistics and journalism. She loves helping others find their voice in writing and making their work the strongest it can be. Katie also loves learning and speaking other languages and wants to help make writing accessible for everyone.

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