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    #1

    "how to" questions

    I have seen statements that a native speaker would never ask

    How to do this or that?


    but that they would say instead

    How do I do...

    or

    How should I do...

    Since I have heard/read native speakers use such questions, I would like to know your position on this. I keep seeing it from time to time but I don't keep record of the examples. I have only one at the moment and it's from a certain chess forum on the internet. It's a reply to a person seeking to "rekindle his passion" for chess.

    I would like very much to take your inquiry seriously, and shall try to give a helpful reply....

    "Chess, like love, like music, has the power to make men happy." -- Siegbert Tarrasch --

    If you have ever truly known the passion of chess that, like music, can bring joy to your heart, then you can only be burnt out a little, fatigued a little, frustrated a little.... you haven't really "fallen out of love", you're just a little weary for some reason. The very fact that you *want* to increase your passion again seems to be proof that this could well be the case.

    So what to do about it? Well maybe it is as simple as that you just need a break, a vacation, a little time away, which you should take without qualm or pang of conscience. Athletes in physical sports do not train and compete all the time, and especially not with the same intensity all the time; why should we be any different?
    The poster is from the USA.

    Is this usage justified in this case or do you find it incorrect? It's not a "normal" question, since they are answering it immediately. Does it make the usage correct?

  1. Raymott's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: "how to" questions

    Quote Originally Posted by birdeen's call View Post

    Is this usage justified in this case or do you find it incorrect? It's not a "normal" question, since they are answering it immediately. Does it make the usage correct?
    Yes, it's not a sentence, and if the writer thought about it, they'd probably agree. There are places where sentence fragments are used by native speakers in essays like this.
    For example:
    "It's time for your annual holidays again, and there decisions to be made. Where to go? How much to spend? ..." This could have been written grammatically, with punctuation, but it's common enough to see this. The difference is that the author is not trying to pass these off as sentences.
    This author might even go into a post office, and ask, "How much to post this article to my publisher?" - knowing that this isn't a sentence either.

    The example you've given heads the paragraph, and could be viewed as a heading. That is it's function.

    An author writing an essay might write, "I sat down to write this article and I was immediately confronted with a problem. How to spell 'porpoise.'" This isn't grammatical, but this author, if they are a native speaker, will not log on to a forum such as this and ask "How to spell 'porpoise'?"

  2. emsr2d2's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: "how to" questions

    There are a lot of things that you will see and hear from native speakers which aren't grammatically correct or are fragments of sentences, or are statements which are intoned to sound like questions.

    The simple answer to this one is that "How to ..." is not a correct start to a question in English.

    You might entitle an article something like "How to install your own shower system in your bathroom". That, however, is a statement describing the content of the following article. It is basically an shortened form of "In this article, I am going to show you how to install ..."

    The related question form would be "How do I install my own shower system in my bathroom?"

    How questions start "How + verb" or "How + modal"

    How do I do this?
    How can I do this?
    How should I do that?
    How will you get to France?
    How did he cross the road?
    How is he dressed?
    How was your holiday?

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    #4

    Re: "how to" questions

    That's great! Especially ESMR. I just sent an email to all of my students in NanKai University, TianJin, China, advising them in the same way. But ESMR's explanation is much more clear. But I thank all of you. It is extremely common in China to hear this mistake start to a question "How to....?"

    While i am blabbing, another thing that really bothers me here is hearing so commonly "Have a try." In east Canada i've never heard that.

    Give it a try.
    Try it out.
    Try it.
    and some more slangish ones....
    Give 'er a try.
    Give 'er a go. (possibly more Newfoundlandish)

  3. JohnParis's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: "how to" questions

    Hello birdeen's call,

    emsr2d2's answer to your question, which seems to pop up on a regular basis, is the best I have seen so far.

    There is one thing I would like to point out. The person that posted the quoted words you provide from a "certain chess forum on the internet" may be from the USA, but it is not certain that he or she is a native speaker. Although your poster gets his point across rather well, something makes me think that he is not a native speaker. According to the latest data available 1,130,818 legal immigrants were admitted to the USA in 2009. Many speak no English whatsoever. A person may come from or live in the USA, but this does not necessarily mean he is a native speaker. I have many colleagues that are from a variety of nations, and while they are all excellent doctors they are not all excellent speakers and writers. Frequently, one of my friends from Italy (an excellent thoracic surgeon) makes small, endearing but noticeable errors in English, and he is a naturalized citizen who has lived in New York City for nearly 30 years.

    Population Bulletin Update: Immigration in America 2010 - Population Reference Bureau

  4. emsr2d2's Avatar
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    #6

    Re: "how to" questions

    I'm very pleased (and a little embarrassed) to see how useful my reply was! Thanks for your kind words.

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