Exclamations - What or How?

Two sorts of exclamation are useful in English. The first is 'what' which always goes with a noun, accompanied by the indefinite article if singular (no article if plural) or a noun phrase. Here is an example from Inspector Montalbano where Fazio is exclaiming 'What a car' in admiration of the car parked in front of the police station. He doesn't expand on the reason for his admiration; for example he could have said 'what a beautiful car' ('a beautiful car' is a noun phrase). The second is 'how' accompanied by an adjective (eg how cute!). Keep an eye on the blog for an example coming soon (but Fazio could have said 'how beautiful'). Both types of exclamation can be accompanied by an exclamation mark depending on how emphatic the exclamation is.

Notice what happened in the last line of the preceding paragraph. 'how emphatic the exclamation is' - this is an interrogative clause, so the subject (the exclamation) goes before the verb (is). The complementary question is 'how emphatic is the exclamation?' Being a question the subject (the exclamation) goes after the verb (is). The verb to be is a special case. With other verbs requiring an auxiliary verb, the subject goes after the auxiliary verb not after the main verb (eg how quickly can you do it?) In this last example the subject (you) goes after the auxiliary verb (can) but before the main verb (do).


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