How/What + exclamative

Discussion in 'Spanish-English Grammar / Gramática Español-Inglés' started by rarufriki, Jan 29, 2013.

  1. rarufriki

    rarufriki Member

    :warn: NEW QUESTION :warn:

    (He creado un nuevo tema porque hablando en un hilo antiguo, nadie ve la pregunta, y me urge entender resolver la duda ... este es el hilo: Moderadores, por favor fusionen temas o borren este cuando la pregunta esté resuelta).

    No sé si estará bien retomar este tema, pero tengo la misma duda y me da palo abrir otro :/

    Es con respecto a las respuestas de Agró. He notado que con todos los ejemplos que ha puesto de "what" siempre usa un indefinite article "a", pero no con "how". But look at this:

    How intelligent a liar he was!

    What a (good) liar he is!

    Both of them use indefinite article and look pretty much the same to me... Same structure and all. Or maybe I'm just blinded right now, and fail to see any difference. I also have another example, not indifenite article included:

    How nice people were in stores and restaurants in that area!

    I found it in a mutiple choice exam, and I picked the answer How/What (both possible). But only how is correct. Why? Can someone enlighten me? Some kind of rule or something?

    ¡Espero que alguien conteste aunque el hilo sea antiguo!
    Thanks a lot in advance :)
  2. micafe

    micafe Senior Member

    United States
    Spanish - Colombia
    Your question is very interesting, I had never thought this could be a problem. I've been trying to find a way to explain it without any success.

    It's a matter of word order. When you use "what" before a noun you must use the article even if there's an adjective between the two words: "What a pretty girl she is!".

    When you use "how" you must put the adjective right after it: "how pretty she/that girl is".

    In Spanish we generally use only "Qué": "Qué niña tan bonita (es ella)" - "qué bonita es esa niña".

    It occurs to me that in order to understand how the sentence is constructed, you can use the word "cuán" instead of "qué" in Spanish:

    "Cuán bonita es esa niña" = "how pretty that girl is" . They have a similar construction, the adjective comes after "how" and "cuán". In English you can't use "what" before the adjective in this sentence.

    "How nice people were in stores and restaurants in that area!" = "Cuán amables fueron/eran las personas en las tiendas y restaurantes.....". In English you can't say "what nice people were...."

    I don't know if this makes any sense. It's really difficult to explain. I'm sorry.:eek:. I did my best..
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2013
  3. AquisM Senior Member

    Hong Kong
    Actually, in my opinion, you can say "what nice people were...", but there is a subtle difference. In "How nice people...", were is used copulatively and would correspond to the Spanish verb ser. I would say that "How nice were those people..." (note: a direct translation of micafe's example - cuán amables son...) is a more fluent and normal structure, butthat can be understood from what was given to you. In "What nice people were...", nice people is operating as a noun phrase and were denotes existence, corresponding to the verb haber. The sentence would become Qué gente amable había en..., if that makes any sense at all in Spanish. :S

    In my opinion, the simplest way to look at it is that noun phrases go with what and adjectives go with how. To test whether to use what or how, rephrase the sentense into a statement. How pretty that girl is becomes That girl is pretty, so pretty is an adjective here and how is correct. What nice were those people in the stores... can be reconstructed as People in the stores... were nice so nice is an adjective and what is not correct, whereas What nice people were in the stores... becomes Nice people were in the stores..., so nice people is a noun phrase, and what is correct.
  4. rarufriki

    rarufriki Member

    Thanks for your replies!

    So, in the end, it's just a matter of where the article is placed, adding AquisM's gramatical explanation.

    What a ...(adj) noun
    How .... adj (a noun)

    What NEEDS a noun.
    How NEEDS an adjective

    (I hadn't thought of that before! It's certainly possible to say "What a (stunning) woman!" or "How cheesy (that movie was)!"

    Is that it? I think it makes sense! Correct me if I'm wrong :)

    Thanks a lot for your help!
  5. AquisM Senior Member

    Hong Kong
    Basically, that's it. Of course, you wouldn't need the article if the noun is plural (What a stunning woman but what stunning women).
  6. SevenDays Senior Member

    Singular common count nouns need a determiner; we say she is a girl, she is the girl, she is my girl, she is that girl, she is some girl, but never "she is girl." "A," "the," "my," "that" and "some" function as determiners; they specify "girl" in some fashion. "What" is also a determiner, and so we say what girl? In what a liar he is, "a" functions as determiner, and "what" as exclamative, but in what liar he is, "what" plays both functions: determiner and exclamative. That's also what happens in what good liar he is, where "what" has two roles. Articles are the most common determiners, and so we typically add them even when "what" plays that same function: what a good liar he is. On the other hand, "how" is an adverb, and never functions as determiner. For that reason, whenever we have a singular common count noun, a determiner is needed: How intelligent a liar he was! How clever that boy is!
  7. rarufriki

    rarufriki Member

    SevenDays, thanks a million! :eek:

    I don't think I'll ever forget that explanation! I didn't know anything about determiners or what type of word "how" was.

    Really useful answers everybody. Thanks! :)

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