Grammar-QuizzesNoun PhrasesModifiers to Nouns › How / What

How / What

Emphasize opinion with an exclamation (!)

Jelly fish
 

In speech—how vs. what

HOW

How as a modifier to an adjective or adverb expresses "a great degree".  A how expression emphasizes the verb complement (occasionally the subject) by positioning it at the beginning of the clause. Exclamations with how and what mostly occur in speech but also may occur in writing with a final exclamation mark (!). How is considered to be a little more formal than what.                                                  

VERBLESS EXCLAMATION

How beautiful! 

How hard! 

So beautiful! / So graceful! 

VERB COMPLEMENT EXCLAMATION

How beautiful this jellyfish is

This jellyfish is so beautiful! 

How gracefully this jellyfish swims(no auxiliary verb)

This jellyfish swims so gracefully.

SUBJECT EXCLAMATION

How much remains a mystery! Subject [how + noun] 

How little survives a firestorm!  Subject [so + noun]

WHAT

What as a modifier to a noun phrase expresses "a remarkable degree". It emphasizes an aspect which relies on context to know if it is positive or negative in meaning. What is placed before the noun and the article (if there is one). In speech, it receives intonation emphasis. In writing, it ends with a an exclamation mark (!). What is considered less formal by some speakers.                             

VERBLESS EXCLAMATION

What a creatureremarkably beautiful or ugly

What creatures!  remarkably beautiful or ugly

What beauty!   remarkable beauty in general (noncount)

VERB COMPLEMENT EXCLAMATION

What a beautiful jellyfish this is!   

This is such a beautiful jellyfish

 

SUBJECT EXCLAMATION

What strange fish live here! Subject [what + adj + noun] 

What danger lurks there! Subject [what + adj + noun] 

 

*How many remains a mystery! /  *So many remains a mystery!  (requires a different context and meaning)

How kind of you!  (You are very kind.) What kindness! (Maybe you are kind or maybe not at all!)

lurk (V) – wait in hiding, wait unseen; remain in or around a place secretly; ambush

survive (V) – remain or continue to be alive after a harsh, catastrophic event

(Huddleston 6 2.4.2, "Non-exclamative exclamations" 10 8.1-3; "Predeterminer AdjP" 6 §3.3)

 

 

 

 

 

How and What

In Noun Phrases

Jellyfish
 

 

How and What in Noun Phrases  (verb-less exclamations)

HOW

How can occur before a count but not a plural or noncount noun.

COUNT NOUN

¹How strange a creaturebefore the article + noun

PLURAL NOUN

*How strange creatures!

NONCOUNT NOUN

*How strange movement

WHAT

What occurs before a count, a plural or a noncount noun.

COUNT NOUN

What a strange creature!directly before the noun

PLURAL NOUN

What strange creatures!

NONCOUNT NOUN

What strange movement

 

*Not used 

¹ Some speakers find "how" to be awkward and express a preference for "what". (US-Eng)

 

 

 

 

How

Exclamation vs. question word orderjellyfish

 

How—exclamative vs. interrogative

EXCLAMATION

When how is used in exclamative sentence, expressing a great degree. How+ the adjective is placed at the beginning of the clause. No subject–auxiliary inversion occurs. (The verb stays at end.)

BE VERB COMPLEMENT

How beautiful the jellyfish is!

How painful the sting of a jellyfish is!

The jelly fish is so beautiful.

The sting of a jellyfish is very painful.

How beautiful the jellyfish is ___.
                          move subject forward

OTHER VERBS 

How gracefully the jellyfish swims!

 

The jelly fish swims so gracefully.

 

How gracefully a jellyfish swims ___.
                              move subject forward

SUBJECT

*How awful a jellyfish stung me! (not used with a subject)

 

QUESTION

When how is used in a question, it is placed at the beginning of the clause, and the auxiliary verb is placed before the subject [article + noun] . Subject-auxiliary inversion occurs.                           

BE VERB 

How graceful is a jelly fish?     

The jelly fish is ___ graceful.

 

How graceful is the jelly fish ___ ___? 
       move verb and modifier forward

OTHER VERBS 

How gracefully does a jelly fish swim?     

The jelly fish swims so gracefully.

 

How graceful does a jelly fish swim___?
              move verb and modifier forward

SUBJECT

How did that awful jellyfish sting me?

 

 

*Yellow highlighting marks an example of incorrect usage.

sting, stung (past), stung (past perfect)

 

 

 

 

 

 

What

Exclamation vs. question word order

jellyfish warning
 

 

What—exclamative vs. interrogative

EXCLAMATION

How , expressing a great degree, is placed at the beginning of the clause. It is followed by a count or noncount noun, or by an adjective and count or noncount noun. The verb does not use an auxiliary, and the verb remains at the end of the clause.

EXCLAMATION – VERB UNDERSTOOD

What pain!  (noncount)

What a sting!

What a swimmer! (count)

What a beauty!

"BE" VERB COMPLEMENT

This beautiful creature is  (remarkable).

 

What a beautiful creature this is!

 

What a beautiful creature this is ___.
                          move subject forward

OTHER VERBS

A jelly fish has painful stingers.

A jelly fish gives a painful sting.

What painful stingers a jellyfish has!

What a painful sting a jellyfish gives!

What pain a jellyfish causes!

What a painful sting a jellyfish gives ___.
                          move subject forward

SUBJECT

*What an awful jellyfish stung me! (not used with a subject)

 

QUESTION

How, an interrogative pronoun, is used in a question, and it is placed at the beginning of the clause. Note that in a question, the verb requires an auxiliary verb which is placed before the subject [article + noun].                                                       

QUESTION – VERB UNDERSTOOD

What pain?  (noncount)

What sting? / Which sting?

What swimmer? / Which swimmer? (which one)

What beauty?  /  Which beauty?  (which one)

BE VERB COMPLEMENT

This beautiful creature is ___ (something-what?).

 

What is this beautiful creature?     

What is this beautiful creature___ ___? 
     move verb and modifier forward

OTHER VERBS

A jelly fish has painful __ (something).

A jelly fish gives a painful __ (something).

What painful thing does a jellyfish have?

What sting does a jellyfish give?

What pain does a jellyfish cause?

What pain does a jellyfish cause ___ ___? 
             move verb and modifier forward

SUBJECT

What (Which) awful jellyfish stung me?

 

 

*Yellow highlighting marks an example of incorrect usage.

creature (N) — living thing

which – used for a small selection of options; what – used for a wider selection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How and What

Expressions

 

 

 

 

How and What Expressions

HOW

How expresses a greater degree for the information that follows.

How kind of you to help me!  (very kind)

How hot it is today! (very hot)

How amazing that is!

How he has grown!   (a lot)

How she has changed! (a lot)

How different everything is now! (a lot)

How over-the-top!   (excessive)

How perfect!   (excellent or with sarcasm–expected to go wrong)

How awesome!  (superbly amazing)

How funny!  (very amusing, odd or peculiar)

WHAT

Most expressions with what rely heavily on context. The other person is expected to know what is being referred to.

What a surprise this is! (delight)

What an injustice this is!  (a protest)

What fools they are! (disappointment)

What manners! (maybe good, maybe bad)

What a face! (maybe good, maybe bad)

What a guy! (maybe good, maybe bad)

That's some pig!   ("from Babe" remarkably good)

What a car! That's quite a car! / That's some car! 

What a doozy!    (maybe good, maybe bad)

What a crock!  (lie, exaggeration)

 

doozy (N) – something outstanding or unique of its kind; from Dusenberg auto, a classy auto that failed to sell well.

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions

 

 

 

Error and Solution

ERROR
VERB PLACEMENT

*How you look beautiful.

*How this is wonderful!

ARTICLE PLACEMENT / USE

*What stand-up guy you are!

*What a wonderful weather!

OTHER

*How a kind person you are!

~What kindness!

*How much money that is!

*What a painful sting hurts my skin.

*What a beautiful creature stung me.

SOLUTION
VERB PLACEMENT

How beautiful you look!   (verb at the end)

How wonderful this is!

ARTICLE PLACEMENT / USE

What a stand-up guy you are!    (article)  stand-up – bold, justice seeking

What wonderful weather!    (no article) 

OTHER

How kind you are!  (expression)

~What a kind person you are.

How expensive that is!  (exclamation)

How much does that cost? (question)

The painful sting hurts my skin.  What a painful sting!

That beautiful creature stung me.

 

*not used / ~requires an unusual context to be used

 

 

 

 

 

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Grammar Notes (Advanced)

Traditional Grammar and Linguistic Description

 

 

TRADITIONAL / ESL LINGUISTIC

Exclamations are constructed with how or what, or so or such.

how + adj / adv + subj + verb
How smart he is!

how + subj + verb
He he has grown!

_______________

what a/an + adj + singular count noun
What a beautiful violin!

what + adj + noncount
What beautiful sound!

what + object + subj + verb
What a beautiful sound it has!

(Swan 195)

How– exclamative; modifier

exclamative clause. How can occur on its own or before an adjective or adverb in an initial AdjP or AdvP. There is normally no subject-auxiliary inversion.

  • How true!  (AdjP) 
  • How he laughed! (AdvP)

(Aarts 6.4) 

adverbial in exclamative clause. How modifies an adjective, degree determinative or adverb.  Formal style.

  • How beautiful it is!  (Adj)
  • How much time they wasted! (Degree Determinative)
  • How slowly they worked! (Adv)

(Huddleston 10 §8.1)

Not mentioned in Azar.

What – exclamative; modifier (not a determiner or pronoun)

exclamative clause. What occurs as a clause initial noun phrase. There is normally no subject-auxiliary inversion. (Aarts 6.4) 

exclamative. What occurs in noun phrase with a following head noun. Informal style. (Huddleston 10 §8.1)

What a game!  (count)

What games! (plural)

What fun! (noncount)

Clause; Word Functions; Finite / Nonfinite; NP –noun phrase; N – noun; VP – verb phrase; V – verb; Compcomplement; Det – determiner; Adj –  adjective; AdjP – adjective phrase; PP – prepositional phrase; P – preposition; Sub – Subordinator

 

Resources

  • Aarts, Bas. Oxford Modern English Grammar. Oxford UP, 2011.
  • Huddleston, Rodney D., and Geoffrey K. Pullum. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge UP, 2002.
  • Swan, Michael. Practical English Usage. 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2005.

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

Annie and Grandpa on the Phone

Anne
 

 

Read the Context

Annie: Hi Grandpa. Happy Birthday!

Grandpa: Is this Annie? You are such a sweetheart! You remembered my birthday.  How are you doing today?

Annie: I'm fine. I lost a tooth! It came out by itself.

Grandpa: That is such a surprise! Do you think the tooth fairy will come?

Annie: I don't know. I'll put it under my pillow tonight.  

Grandpa: The tooth fairy creeps in so quietly!

Annie: I know.

Annie: Mommy is making you a surprise. I'm not supposed to tell you. It's a birthday cake.

Grandpa: That is so delightful!  What kind is it?

Annie: It is a chocolate cake with peppermint icing.

Grandpa: Mmmm. It sounds delicious.

Annie: Yes. And I helped her.

Grandpa: You are so helpful. 

Grandpa: Say, are you going to stay up late for my birthday dinner.

Annie: No, I'm going to bed early to wait for the tooth fairy.

Grandpa: That is a good idea. You don't want to upset the tooth fairy.  

Annie: I want to see her.

Grandpa: But, you know honey, she won't come for your tooth if you are awake. You have to be asleep.

Annie: What? That's unfair!  I want to see her.

Grandpa: That's how it goes, sweetheart.  No exceptions.

Annie: I could put a camera in my room! When she takes my tooth, it will take her picture.

Grandpa: You are such a clever girl! But I think the tooth fairy will know the camera is there.

Annie: Then I'll stay up and come to your birthday dinner instead.

Grandpa: It is so kind of you to join us! I will be happy to see you there.

Annie: Me too. See you later Grandpa.

creep (V) – come or go quietly without a sound, undetected by others

icing (N) – the sweet butter and sugar mixture that usually covers the outside of a cake; frosting

say – a conversational transition word used to get the other person's attention or change to another subject

tooth fairy — a fantasy figure who comes in at night (flies) and retrieves a child's tooth at night and replaces it with money.

 

 

 

 

Select the exclamation with how or what that replaces the so or such sentence.

  1. Select the response from the list that best restates the sentence before (above) it. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" or "check 1-10" button.

 

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

Formal and Informal Exclamations

Unusual wedding cake

 

 

 

Read the Context

Bill: What a surprise to see you here! 

Jill: I wouldn't miss this for anything! What a beautiful location for a wedding! 

Bill: Look! Here comes the bride. What a beautiful bride she is!

Jill: What a big smile the groom has!

Bill: What a celebration this is!

Bill: What an unusual cake! 

Jill: Do you mean "What a cake!" 

Bill: You don't like it? 

Jill: Well. Where is the rest of the icing?

Bill: It looks delicious anyway.

Punctuation— when two forms of punctuation occur at the end of the sentence, typically "the stronger one wins". In this case "stronger" may refer to the desired emphasis:

Do you mean "What a cake!" (exclamation is maintained-better)

Do you mean "what a cake"? (question is maintained-weaker)

"What a cake!" he said.  (better)

"What a cake!" he exclaimed. 

"What a cake," he said!  (weak; not used)

 

 

 

Change the "what" exclamations to "how" exclamations.  (informal to more formal)

  1. Edit the sentence(s) in the text box.
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" or "check 11-17" button.

 

11.
What a surprise to see you here!


12.
What a beautiful location for a wedding!


13.
What a beautiful bride she is!


14.
What a big smile the groom has!


15.
What a celebration this is!


16.
What an unusual cake!


17.
What a cake!