exclamation sentence with "how" and "what"

Discussion in 'English Only' started by kryplander, Aug 2, 2007.

  1. kryplander New Member

    Taiwan, Taiwanese and Mandarin
    Hi, I have this question about "how" and "what" in exclamation sentences.
    We can say:
    1. "how beautiful he is."
    2. "how beautiful a boy he is."
    3. "what a beautiful boy he is."
    4. "what beautiful boys they are."

    However, we can't say:
    5. "how beautiful boys they are."

    I know it's because "how" can only modify adjectives or adverbs and since "beautiful boys" forms a unit as a noun phrase, we can not say
    "how beautiful boys they are."

    But "boys" can also be a syntactic constituent.
    So how do we explain the inappropriateness of the sentence "how beautiful boys they are"?
    Is there any good explanation in linguistics, syntactically or pragmatically?

    Thank you.
  2. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Hi Kryplander, and welcome to the forum,

    Good question.

    I'll make a modest beginning by agreeing that 5 won't do, and adding that I couldn't say 2 either: how beautiful a boy he is.

    I'd say: what a beautiful boy he is
  3. difficult cuss Senior Member

    English England
    2.how beautiful a boy he is. this is correct but it is very "floral"....poetic.

    As for your questions..."syntactic constituent" this is way beyond me.
    I would simply say that the sentence is wrong.
    Try "how beautiful those boys are" or perhaps "those boys, how beautiful they are!"
  4. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    The "how" has to refer to the adjective "beautiful" ONLY, and not the noun "boys". When you say "how beautiful boys", you are still speaking of the "boys" (even if they are "beautiful boys"), and not merely of the adjective "beautiful" by itself.

    You may say these:

    How beautiful those boys are.
    How beautiful that boy is.
    How beautiful the boys are.
    How beautiful the boy is.

    You can also turn the sentence around a bit:
    How beautiful are the boys who live here.
  5. kryplander New Member

    Taiwan, Taiwanese and Mandarin
    Thank you all for the immediate replies!

    As I have said, I know "how" can only modify adjectives or adverbs in such exclamation sentences, and I know in "how beautiful boys" "how" in fact modifies "beautiful boys" instead of "beautiful". Therefore the sentence "How beautiful boys they are!" is wrong.

    But the problem is that my friend, who asked me this question, did not seem satisfied with this explanation. He wanted a more "linguistic" explanation.
    Perhaps with some more theoretical accounts?

    Thanks again.
  6. martin_baires07 Senior Member

    Buenos Aires, Argentina
    Argentinean Spanish
    Hi! I have a question as regards using HOW to make exclamations in English.

    Which one is the correct form and why?

    1) How wonderful day it is!


    2) How a wonderful day it is!

    Does HOW behave in the same syntactic way as WHAT or not? If not, why? Could you provide examples to make this difference clearer?

    Thank you in advance!
  7. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    No, how does not act in the same way as what.

    How is an adverb, and can modify a predicate adjective:
    How wonderful the day is!
    How wonderful a day it is! (I like this version less.)
    What is a pronoun used as an intensifier before an adjective modifying a noun. Often it is followed by an indefinite article.
    What a wonderful day!
    What a wonderful day it is!
  8. Julianus

    Julianus Senior Member


    I have [above] about 'exclamatory sentence' : #2, #3

    In answer #2, #3, I have found strange thing to me like following.

    a. How wonderful a day it is! (correct) b. How beautiful boys they are! (incorrect)

    According to answer #2, #3, in the structure 'How+adjective+noun+subjective+verb' if noun is the singular, is it always correct?

    On the contrary to this, if noun is the plural, is it always incorrect like following?

    1. a. How hot the weather it is! (correct?) b.How wonderful a world it is! (correct?) c. How cold water it is! (correct?) d.How wonderful days they are! (incorrect?)

    Question : If my thought is correct, (a), (b), and (c) are correct, but (d) is incorrect. am I right?

    Thank you always~.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2012
  9. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    My advice here is, "Do not say, 'How wonderful a day it is!'" Instead say, "What a wonderful day it is!"

    'How wonderful a day it is!' is the sort of phrase you would expect in an overly dramatic romantic novel of 1850.

    If you must use how,
    'How wonderful the day is!' but even that is old-fashioned.

    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 17, 2012
  10. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Going back to jullianus's questions: the construction is:

    (1) How [ADJECTIVE] [SUBJECT] [VERB]: how beautiful he is!
    (2) How [ADJECTIVE] [a(n) NOUN] [SUBJECT] [VERB]: how beautiful a boy he is!

    (a) doesn't conform to either construction. You could say how hot the weather is! This conforms to construction (1).
    (b) conforms to to construction (2).
    (c) doesn't conform to either construction. If you take out the pronoun, you'd get an acceptable sentence: how cold the water is (construction 1).
    (d) doesn't conform to either construction.

    For construction 1, the plural is possible. For construction 2, the plural is not possible because of the obligatory a(n). (I agree that construction 2 is stylised, but I will still judge it to be grammatical.)
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2012

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