I think questions phrased as how do you do X is primarily opinion-based, while how should I do X is more answerable, because how I or you or anyone does things is not the point of asking here, but to know what's the best approach one should follow.

What does the community say? Agree with my theory? Should we rephrase future questions this way?

To see the current status of questions:

  1. https://interpersonal.stackexchange.com/search?q=%22how+do+you%22
  2. https://interpersonal.stackexchange.com/search?q=%22how+should+i%22
  • Related: React vs Respond
    – NVZ
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 7:30
  • 2
    "How should I" can also be opinion based, unfortunately, so I'm not sure just changing that wording will be enough.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 9:01
  • @RoryAlsop Can't argue with that, since most of our questions are opinion-based. But still, perhaps this way it focusses on an ideal response to a situation... Imagine, I'm a puppy kicker. If I'm asked "how do you (NVZ) treat a puppy", that would invite my answer as well. But "how should I (the OP) treat a puppy" gets answers like "treat it with care" or something. It's hard to explain. Bad analogy, perhaps.
    – NVZ
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 9:08
  • Yeah - I agree with your intention, and have upvoted, but I think it will just be a little more effort than this post makes it sound.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 9:17

2 Answers 2


This is a quirk of the English language. If you go to tech support to ask, "How do you unlock this iPhone?", you're not typically expecting a literal response like, "I don't unlock it; the phone is not mine." The question they are actually asking is, "How is this done?"

This site isn't a polling place to collect random anecdotes as a way to build consensus among the participants, so it doesn't make sense to presume the author is asking how you resolve this issue literally — as in (for example) "How much do you make for a living?" When someone removes themselves from the first-person example, they are likely asking about the norms of societal convention generally. So "you" in this context typically means, "How do you all (2nd person plural) [do this thing, act this way, resolve this issue] as a convention of society?"

The proper way to express this is, "How does one do [x]?" This would remove all ambiguity, but it can also sound somewhat stilted in today's common vernacular.

Not all questions are about specific incidents someone wishes to overcome at the time of asking. There are plenty of questions one can ask about how things are done in polite society. So if a question isn't being asked in the first person (e.g. "what should I do in this situation?"), you should generally assume the answer should be generalized to social conventions — "How is one in society expected to do [this thing] generally?"

Such questions can also be helpful to folks who come after.


TL;DR -- Canute Cannot Fight the Tide

Let me gently suggest that the language and its usages evolve out from under us, and that newer constructions, while initially grating, may eventually become the norm. The important thing is the intent, which is typically clear. I think the trajectory of the language these days is for less and less formal phrasings. "How does one" and "How should one" didn't even make the list in the original question! One might be forced to raise an eyebrow at this omission. ;D

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