Writing & Marketing in English – The Case of How “How” is one of those words that is all too often misused when marketing in English.
“How to rethink communication in a digital world?”
Do you see what’s wrong with this sentence?
If you are French, you probably don’t.
If you are English, the omission is so glaring and the structure is so wrong that you know right away that whoever wrote it can’t write English.
And yet, the mistake is understandable. At least it is for someone whose mother tongue is French.
The original French version of the above sentence is:
“Comment repenser la communication dans un monde digital ?”
Look in any English-French dictionary and you’ll find that “comment” is translated as “how.” To switch one word for the other is right. What’s wrong is not to consider how questions are formed in English.
As a general rule, the formula to composing questions in English is:
Question word + Auxiliary verb + Subject + Main verb
For our example sentence, appropriate alternatives would be:
- “How must we rethink (…)?”
- “How do I rethink (..)?”
- “How can you rethink (…)?”
Now, some people may contest by saying that they often see English sentences written like our example sentence. And this is true, this form does exist, but these are not question sentences.
“How” can be used at the beginning of a declarative sentence. In the case of declarative sentences beginning with “how,” we usually use these as a title for articles, blog posts and “how-tos”.
- “How to Rethink Communication in a Digital World”
- “How I trained for a marathon in 6 weeks”
- “How to get abs of steel”
To add a bit more confusion, “how” can also be used at the beginning of exclamatory sentences:
“How I would love to marry a rich man!”
Be aware that this form is a bit old fashion…
If you are translating an interrogative sentence that begins with “comment” from French to English, use “how” AND an auxiliary verb AND a subject before adding your main verb and any following clauses.
For the intro sentence, the best alternative would be, “How do (auxiliary verb) we (subject) rethink (main verb) communication in a digital world?”