I'm having a lot of trouble working out the difference between なんと and どう。 どう is "How" e.g. これはどう書きますか "How do you write this?" and is easy for me to understand. The problem is なんと、the dictionaries translate it as "how?" and "what?".

If I want to say "how" when do I use どう and when do I use なんと and What's the difference between これはなんと書きますか and これはどう書きますか。To put it in context, if it helps, I'm studying JLPT2 but still have problems with this.


どう can be paraphrased as "in which way", "in what manner". なんと cannot, and it means "as what".

(literally) 'In what manner do you say this?'
'How do you pronounce this?'

(literally) 'As what do you say this?'
'How do you call this?'

  • Thank you @sawa. I used to use the term "with what" for なんと but was told it was wrong, "as what" is very helpful. Its also helpful that the explanation is short and easy to remember. – edwinbradford Mar 27 '12 at 17:52
  • @sawa Is this similar to the various constructions in Japanese where we replace a thing with "nan" or "nani"? For instance, we can ask a child "nani-chan desu ka?". "midori-chan desu". E.g. Q:"nan-to omoimasuka?" Q:"<...>-to omoimasu". The 何 seems to be like a pattern variable that goes in the place where the answer is expected. In English we invert the subject and auxiliary verby in the wh- sentence and move the wh- to the front. "You are thinking <what>" has to become "<what> are you thinking", but in Japanese it seems to just stay put. – Kaz Mar 28 '12 at 23:54
  • @Kaz Yes. Exactly. is a wh-phrase in Japanese. The consensus that has been held in academics for several decades is that a wh-phrase originates in the argument positions (in any language), and in some occasion, it moves to the front. In languages like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, they stay in the original position. In languages like Serbo-Croatian, all of them move to the front (when there are more than one in a clause). In languages like German, English, only one of them move. – user458 Mar 29 '12 at 1:11
  • In English, you usually see it moved to the front, but there are several cases where the wh-phrase stays in the original position. One case is when you have multiple wh-phrases. In that case, only one wh-moves: Where did you see what?, Who saw whom? Another case is when you misheard what another person said, and want to confirm (technically called echo question): You said *what*? – user458 Mar 29 '12 at 1:12
  • Aha, I see how in Slavic languages both wh-words move, along the pattern of "where did you what see". – Kaz Mar 29 '12 at 1:41

You can see how both are used by example I guess

なんと http://jisho.org/sentences?jap=%E3%81%AA%E3%82%93%E3%81%A8&eng=

どう http://jisho.org/sentences?jap=%E3%81%A9%E3%81%86&eng=

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