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  1. Why has my question been moved to "English learners"? There's no reason given that I can see.
  2. What happened to all of the comments, why were some of them removed?
  3. What exactly was wrong with my question about usage?

Here is a link to the moved question!

Personally, I don't think the two commenters understand my question (as perhaps I didn't explain it correctly), and instead thought I was asking a very simple question when, from my perspective, I was asking about a peculiar usage of the word "how" that I've recently noticed people using and is a usage that I find completely unique. I wanted to know if this usage was common elsewhere, or just where I'd noticed it.

In additions to the above meta-questions, I've written a clarification to my original question. Naturally I should edit this into my original question, but I'd like to leave it untouched until this meta-issue is resolved.

The clarification is between the two breaks. There are some more meta-stuff after it.


I was not asking "How do you use the word 'how'"? I was specifically asking about what I believe to be a unique usage pattern that I've never encountered in my entire life of speaking fluent English. I wanted to know if this usage pattern was in widespread use (e.g. in American English?) or whether it was localised to the specific place I'd observed its apparent common and easy use.

Examples of usage:

  • "How is Mastodon live?"
  • "How is Winter Voices?"

Which I think I would normally hear phased as:

  • "How good are Mastodon live?" / "What are your opinions of Mastodon's live performance?"
  • "How much fun is Winter voices" / "What are your opinions of Winter Voices?"

These are questions that are clearly asking for opinions on the given subject.

tchrist and Scott seem to have confused my usage examples with common ones such as "How are you?", which are questions that enquire into someone or something's health.

Here are some examples of the usage they thought I was asking about:

How are you? -> Are you in good health?
How is Jim's car? -> Is the car working OK?
How is Jane? -> Is Jane feeling well?
How is the fire? -> Is the fire lit and burning ok?

Am I mistaken, and these are in fact the same thing, but a usage I've simply never noticed before? I would say no, these are different, as then:

How are Mastodon? -> What is the current state of Mastodon? (aka Are the members of Mastodon feeling well?)

Which is exactly how I read this kind of question when I see "How is Mastodon" in someone's post. Note: This, to me, is different from:

How were Mastodon [last night] -> How well did Mastodon perform last night?

Which is more inline with the normal "health/state" check.

I've never heard the usage of "how is " to enquire about qualities of X other than their "health". Is this usage common in some dialects, or is it a universal thing that I've somehow failed to notice before?


So: Is this an absurd and ridiculous thing to ask? Is this "How is " (which means "What are you opinions on ") usage so common to the moderators involved that they fail to see it as being an interesting and unique phenomenon?

As far as I can tell, all of the definitions and examples given by the following dictionaries support my "status/health" question usage and do not in anyway reference the "opinions on" usage, which to me means it is new?

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    The question is a better fit to ELL. Perhaps your mother never asked "How was school today?" when you got back. – FumbleFingers Jul 27 '14 at 17:49
  • @FumbleFingers: Perhaps your grandfather asked questions such as How is chess? all the time. Most people's don't, in part because it's typically not considered grammatical. It's hard to say exactly why it isn't when How is the book? clearly is. Even the best references generally contain little information. The examples show that, surprisingly, grammaticality isn't always invariant under even the most harmless transformations. – Hans Adler Jul 28 '14 at 16:36
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    @Hans: I have absolutely no idea why you say the usage in question is "typically not considered grammatical". But that must surely be an attitude which somehow seems "logical" to non-native speakers - it doesn't reflect anything I've ever come up against while acquiring English as my native language, gaining a degree in English Language & Literature, or spending over three years here on ELU. The reason "How is chess?" sounds "odd" is purely a matter of pragmatics (there aren't many contexts where it makes sense). It's nothing to do with "grammar" as such. – FumbleFingers Jul 28 '14 at 17:28
  • Disagreements about the grammaticality of single sentences are normal, especially if they are almost impossible for pragmatic reasons and involve an ill-defined demarcation. On the other hand, it's true that German wie is way more restricted than how. Unless another native speaker (with the same judgement as Pod, who also seems to be one) comes to my rescue, I will simply give up at this point. Though I still think the difference in judgement is more likely due to mine having been trained primarily by shelves of 18th century literature rather than to my L1. – Hans Adler Jul 28 '14 at 17:58
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    I agree with Fumblefingers. I live on the other side of the pond and don't think this usage is anywhere close to "uncommon". It is used quite commonly. I have never heard any sort of claim that it was somehow ungrammatical until today. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 28 '14 at 18:47
  • I wanted to let you know that I took out your last paragraph because the comment was removed, and because it was not that user's decision to migrate the question. I understand that you are upset about the comment, and that is over and done with now. It was the moderation team who decided to migrate the question, not that user. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 28 '14 at 21:08
  • With regard to your citations, I feel that this usage falls under "used to ask about the condition or quality of something", which is more or less in all of those dictionaries. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 28 '14 at 21:19
8

To address the comment question:

A comment was flagged as not constructive. I deleted it. That left your comment in response hanging there, with its target gone, so I deleted that one too.

I deleted my comments on the migrated question, because one was obsolete (explaining that I was migrating the question), the other was a comment that attempts to answer your question, which is not what comments are for.

Why your question has been moved to ELL:

You said in a comment:

I've never heard "How’s his hamburger, Hubert?". It doesn't even make sense to me. "How’s your hamburger, Hubert?", does.

I replied to that that "How's his hamburger" is the same construction as "how's your hamburger", but in the third person (his) instead of the second person (your).

Since that seemed to be the main source of your confusion, that makes the question a better fit for ELL, since it's about explaining how pronouns work.

I should point out that the question is well written, which I why I felt I could migrate it instead of just close it.

  • In my idiolect, probably not unlike Pod's, "How's your hamburger?" is grammatical and "How's his hamburger?" is only borderline grammatical as in a rude way of asking an interpreter for information. As I explained in my answer, which is currently being downvoted without any explanations, the Cambridge Grammar acknowledges that there are severe restrictions on the use of how, and that even when asking for an evaluation of X it is often not grammatical to just ask "How is X?". You must ask more specifically, e.g. "How does the house look now?" (Not: "How is the house [now]?") – Hans Adler Jul 28 '14 at 15:56
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    Hence why this is a good question for ELL and not here. "How is his hamburger" is entirely grammatical. Maybe you don't like the style, but there is nothing wrong with the grammar. – Matt E. Эллен Jul 28 '14 at 17:08
  • As an aside, votes on meta mean "I agree with you" or "I disagree with you", rather than reflecting the quality of the post. – Matt E. Эллен Jul 28 '14 at 17:09
  • I am under the impression that you may be making unwarranted assumptions on the level at which I am speaking English and therefore not bothering to look closely at the arguments. It's normal for different people's idiolects to disagree about the grammaticality of a sentence. In those cases it's important to support one's position with reference sources, as I have done. (Or research in a corpus, which I think is too tricky in this case.) – Hans Adler Jul 28 '14 at 17:24
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    I am aware of the meaning of the votes here. I just think it would have been nice to have an explanation why people disagree. Without that there is always the possibility that it's all just knee-jerk reactions to someone with an obviously foreign name arguing with native speakers. I may be wrong, but I suspect there is a run-away false-consensus effect here. – Hans Adler Jul 28 '14 at 17:28
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    As this may still not be clear: I doubt seriously that the answer that this question calls for is part of any routine L2 English teaching. It seems to be on the level of linguistic research -- though a serious group effort could also create helpful data on what is acceptable to everyone, some people, or nobody. – Hans Adler Jul 28 '14 at 17:31
  • According to the Google Ngram Viewer, the only possessive that ever occurs as X in "How is X food" is your. There are obvious pragmatical reasons for this. My claim is that these are grammaticalised. – Hans Adler Jul 28 '14 at 17:39
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    This comes a bit late, but I just realised that if Hubert is actually eating 'his' (someonelse's) hamburger, then of course "How’s his hamburger, Hubert?" makes perfect sense and is in fact grammatical. So this particular restriction is clearly not grammaticalised. – Hans Adler Jul 28 '14 at 19:20
  • An example sentence that is semantically worthless for the sake of alliteration is of little value. – phenry Jul 28 '14 at 22:32
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    @Hans, tchrist, et.al.: Another interpretation is that Hubert is a judge at a hamburger-cooking contest, and the master of ceremonies asks him, “How’s Andrew’s hamburger? How’s Betty’s hamburger? How’s Charlie’s hamburger?” so she knows which contestant wins the prize. – Scott Jul 31 '14 at 19:03
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    To mirror TimLymington’s comment on Hans’s (or should that be Hans’? :-) ) answer, it doesn’t make sense to say that “How’s your hamburger?” is grammatical and “How’s his hamburger?” is not. One may be more semantically, pragmatically applicable (Hubert won’t know how Andrew’s meal is unless (1) Andrew has told him, (2) Hubert can read Andrew’s mind, or (3) Hubert is eating Andrew’s meal, in which case it isn’t Andrew’s meal any more), but they are grammatically interchangeable. – Scott Jul 31 '14 at 19:04
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Obviously this question wasn't worded ideally, but I think it's very suitable for English Language and Usage. How is [noun] has some severe semantic/pragmatic restrictions that I don't fully understand (theoretically, that is). For instance, for me there is nothing remarkable about Pod's first usage example "How is Mastodon live?". Yet the second example "How is Winter Voices?" strikes me as utterly ungrammatical unless it is addressed to someone currently obsessed with Winter Voices and this is actually an enquiry about the obsession.

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language comes close to the issue on p. 907, but essentially they just say that how asking for a predicative adjective is severely restricted. I don't consider this completely satisfactory. They also point out that more specific verbs make how more widely applicable. The example "How is Mastodon live" shows that this is not the full truth. Apparently, any more specific information makes how more acceptable.

I note that the Cambridge Grammar gives the example "How was the concert?" In fact, "How is the concert?" would also have worked in an appropriate context, though it comes closer to the border line. "How is the match?" is just as good, and so is "How is the book? How is War and Peace?" But not: "How is football? How is chess?"

I think this could be rephrased as a good question for Linguistics Stackexchange, though it's probably better to collect some more partial insight here first and work out what the differences in people's individual judgement are.

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    Why not "how is football?" or "how is chess?" – Kit Z. Fox Jul 28 '14 at 21:00
  • I wish I knew. -- I should have made it clear that these are my personal grammaticality judgements. In my experience these always agree with what linguists say even on matters that are taught incorrectly to English learners or in most English usage literature. But here we are dealing with corner cases, so disagreement is normal. -- My English was formed by hundreds of mostly 18th century books, years in the UK and years of interaction with mostly Americans on the English Wikipedia. This is my first indication that it might be partially out of date. – Hans Adler Jul 28 '14 at 21:44
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    I think your "How was the concert/How is the concert?" gets to the heart of the problem. The latter is so rare that it may well sound odd; that is because it can only properly be used during the concert itself. But the two are equally grammatical, and anyone who says otherwise is not using the normal definition. – TimLymington Jul 28 '14 at 22:27
  • @TimLymington: Good point. In this area my internal grammar seems to behave more like a Bayesian filter. – Hans Adler Jul 28 '14 at 22:38
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    @TimLymington "How is the concert?" is a perfectly reasonable and common text message, for example, or in a phone call when one steps away from the concert for a call. Communication during a concert (or whatever) is not only not rare, it is quite common given current technology. Of course it would rarely make sense to, say, mail a letter that asked "how is the concert", but, you know, who mails letters? – Jason C Jul 30 '14 at 5:51

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