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    #1

    sentence with "how" and "what"

    Please help me check two sentences. Which one is correct:

    How great a progress they've made recently!
    What a great progress they've made recently!

    thank you very much.

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    #2

    Re: sentence with "how" and "what"

    Quote Originally Posted by phoenixqn81 View Post
    Please help me check two sentences. Which one is correct:

    How great a progress they've made recently!
    What a great progress they've made recently!

    thank you very much.
    Interestingly enough, the idiomatic expression is

    What great progress they've made recently!

    The indefinite article is omitted because progress is an abstract noun, and any specific examples of progress (gaining fluency in a language, working on research, etc.) can only be considered progress within the given situation. This contrasts with various other abstract nouns such as "freedom", which can be given examples that are in themselves universal: so "a freedom; namely, the freedom of speech".
    Last edited by abaka; 14-Jan-2009 at 09:46.

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    #3

    Re: sentence with "how" and "what"

    Thanks for you explanation, and I want to ask you if we can also use:

    How great progress they've made recently!

    I've read 2 sentences: What a beautiful day it is!
    and How beautiful day it is!
    and they're both ok.

    Waiting for your reply & thanks much.

    Phoenix

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    #4

    Re: sentence with "how" and "what"

    Truly, I was afraid you'd ask that. I've been asked this question before.

    No, you shouldn't say "How great progress we've made", or "how beautiful day it is!"

    You could say "what a beautiful day it is" or "how beautiful today is" or "how beautiful a day it is".

    Why?

    This simple answer is: it's not idiomatic.

    This means, by the way, that it just sounds wrong.
    __________________________________________________ ____________

    The long answer... Sorry. This will be nasty. But it's the best I can come up with.
    __________________________________________________ ____________

    Indeed, why not? All of the following are correct:

    V How great he is!
    V What a great man he is!
    V How great a man he is!
    V How difficult nuclear physics is!

    ****

    First, let's look at this construction. "How" and "What" both stress the intensity of what follows. "How" is an adverb, and so modifies (intensifies) a verb, adjective, or adverb, as in the examples below:

    V How he runs!
    V How quickly he runs!
    V How difficult nuclear physics is!
    V How wonderful these news!
    V How wonderful, liberty!

    "What" is a pronoun, but here it is being used as though it were an adjective. It therefore intensifies (modifies) a noun:

    V What wonderful news!
    V What wonderful news we've heard!
    V What a beautiful day it is!

    Note that in English adjectives do not modify pronouns directly, but only in a complement ("he was blue; I painted him red", not "blue he"). So "What" cannot be used with a pronoun:

    X What great he is!

    So why not:

    X? "How great progress we've made" or
    X? "how beautiful day it is!" ?

    Why

    V? "how beautiful a day it is" or
    V?? "how beautiful today is"?
    V?? How wonderful, liberty!

    Well:

    Consider that in all the acceptable examples where "how" (an adverb) is the intensifier of an adjective (A) that modifies a noun (N), there is another word (z) between the adjective and the noun:

    V How A z N...

    But without the extra word, the sentence is not acceptable:

    X How A N...

    This explains:

    X "How great progress we've made"
    X "how beautiful day it is!" ?

    and

    V "How great the progress we've made"

    (note the definite -- not indefinite article. To make more precise what I said earlier, indefinite articles do not modify abstract nouns, but definite articles sometimes do.)

    and

    V "how beautiful a day it is"

    But it still doesn't explain

    V?? "how beautiful today is".
    A N
    V?? How wonderful, liberty!

    For here "today" is clearly a noun (it is the subject of the verb "is").

    The only explanations I can think of are as follows:

    (1) "Today" is etymologically "this day"
    (2) The comma before "liberty" stands for an understood is; whereas in "How great progress we've made" there are no understood words.

    -------------------------------------------------------------------

    I apologize for this mess. This is the best I've ever been able to puzzle out for myself. Obviously there's something farly deep happening here with prosody, the way the stresses are distributed in a sentence. I'll be very happy for any suggestions. I'd like to emphasize that I determined which sentences were acceptable purely by ear, and then fitted a rule as best as I could. It would be particularly interesting if anyone's intuitive sense of English contradicts any of my pronouncements of X and V.
    Last edited by abaka; 15-Jan-2009 at 18:31.

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    #5

    Re: sentence with "how" and "what"

    All the things you explained I understand. I really thank you, abaka.

    Phoenix

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