Consider the two questions:

  1. せんせいの しつもんに なんと こたえました
  2. せんせいの しつもんに どう こたえました

I hope they both mean "How did you answer the teacher's question?"
A previous question on this site suggested that なんと should be translated as "as what" and どう should translate as "in what manner".
So am I right in thinking that the expected response to questions 1) and 2) should be different? Let's say the question the teacher asked was "what animal is that?"
If I was asked

せんせいの しつもんに なんと こたえました

then I would answer with "I said it's a dog" for example. But if I was asked

せんせいの しつもんに どう こたえました

, then I would answer with "I answered the teacher politely" or "I answered her in a rude manner".
Is this correct, or have I completely misunderstood the difference between the two words?

2 Answers 2


For educational purposes, I am taking the liberty of adding 「か」 at the end of the sentences in question. In informal speech, the question marker is indeed often dropped, but in this case, the sentences are clearly not informal or colloquial enough to drop it.

1)「せんせいの しつもんに なんと こたえましたか。」

2)「せんせいの しつもんに どう こたえましたか。」

1) can only mean one thing -- "What was your answer to your teacher's quetion?" (Not a literal translation. Literal TL is difficult here.) It asks, "What did you say?"

2) can technically mean two things.

  1. Same as 1).

  2. "In what manner did you answer your teacher's question."

In real life settings, however, sentence 2) would be used for the same meaning as sentence 1) well over 95% of the time by native speakers.

  • Thanks for the reply. Can you give an example where なんと and どう not interchangeable. It seems I still haven't got a feel for the difference in usage. Jan 10, 2015 at 10:17
  • One of the possible situations is when non-verbal option is available. 「おまえは弱虫{よわむし}だといわれたら[(a)なんと(b)どう]反論{はんろん}しますか?」 "How do you object him when he says that you are a wimp?" (a) Give him a quick rejoinder. (b) Same as (a), or beat him up. Jan 10, 2015 at 15:56

"なんと" originates from "何と", and '何' means 'what'. "どう" is about 'how'.

So it would be better to consider if it is about what or how, although they can be used interchangeably. If it is about how, "なんと" may/can not be used depending on the verbs to use with.

If it is about saying/writing/reading, such as in the case of this question, they would be interchangeable.

  • せんせい は えいご で なんと いう
  • せんせい は えいご で どう いう

I Would translate both 'How to say Sensei in English?

However if it is about how to make, how to handle, how to eat, etc it should be "どう".

すし は どう たべる? (How to eat sushi?)

This should be "どう" and cannot be "なんと".

  • So is there any case where I must use なんと? And if we just translate なんと as 'what' then how is its usage different from なに? Jan 12, 2015 at 19:17
  • For a sentence "私が何と言ったか覚えていますか", I will not use 'how' but 'what'. Because this is asking what I said, and not how I said. The translation will be "Do you remember what I said?' The translation of "Do you remember how I said?" would be "どう” not "何と". At least I will not use "何と".
    – mon
    Jan 12, 2015 at 22:17
  • Regarding "なに" and "なんと". Obviously the difference is 'と'. 'と' in this context is (in my understanding) citation of or references to a general idea, a fact, or a remark. In the class, the teacher asked "what do you like to eat?". Talking about what happened the class, a parent asked "What was your answer?", and you answered "'I like sushi' I said". The conversation with the parent will be "せんせいの しつもんに なんと こたえましたか" - "「すしがすき」とこたえました". Citing what was said.
    – mon
    Jan 12, 2015 at 22:40
  • So an answer expected will result in a citation or reference to a fact, a remark, or a general idea, (which is what, not how), then "何と" would form a question. 「質問したサイトは何と言いますか?」(What is the site where you asked the question?) 「スタックエクスチェンジと言います」(It is 'Stackexchange'). In this case, a reference to a site called Stack Exchange.
    – mon
    Jan 12, 2015 at 22:51
  • web.ydu.edu.tw/~uchiyama/bunpo/inyo.pdf may be related.
    – mon
    Jan 12, 2015 at 22:54

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .