Asking “How does he look like?” is a common mistake made by non-native speakers of English. But do you know why? And what is correct?

Imagine you’re shopping with a friend. She’s trying on some new clothes, and wants to know what you think before she buys them. To get your opinion, she’ll ask: “How do I look?” Your answer to this question will hopefully be: “You look great!”

Now imagine that you’re told to give something to a woman you’ve never seen before. To get a physical description, ask: “What does she look like?” The answer to this question could be “She’s tall with black hair” or “She’s wearing a black t-shirt and jeans.”

It’s understandable why speakers of other languages often make this mistake. In German, for example, if you ask: “Wie sieht er aus?” you could get an opinion (e.g. “Er sieht gut aus!” – “He looks good!”) or a physical description (e.g. “Er ist ungefähr zwei Meter groß und trägt eine Brille” – “He’s about two metres tall and is wearing glasses”).

Many non-native speakers of English somehow manage to combine both questions, taking the ‘how’ from the first question, and the ‘like’ from the second, resulting in a Frankenstein-esque “How does he look like?”.

So remember, if you want to know someone’s opinion, ask “How does he look?” (without like) But if you need a physical description, ask: What does he look like?” And don’t mix them up – “How does he look like?” is not correct!

Do you have a question about this topic? Email me at philmarlowenglish@gmail.com

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