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I'm trying to figure out what kind of grammatical objects the words "what" and "how" are in the following sentences:

What an idiot!
What a surprise.
What strange people.
How odd.
How interesting.
How absurd.

In these contexts, what is not functioning as either an interrogative pronoun or a reflexive pronoun, and neither is it functioning as an abbreviation for "that which". The above examples are complete sentences. But ... shouldn't all sentences have a verb? So ... EITHER "What" is functioning as a verb, OR there is some heavy ellipsis going on, with (at least) a whole verb removed. The object following "what" may be either singular, plural or continuous, but seems always to be indefinite - nobody ever says "What the idiot". Furthermore, "What a ..." is an indicative statement, not a question.

I have similar difficulty in understanding the function of the word "How" in the latter three examples. The object following it is merely an adjective, yet these are also complete sentences. If "how" is interrogative, what does it stand for? Where is the verb in these sentences? Is "How" functioning as the verb, or is there some seriously heavy ellipsis going on?

Another possibility which occurs to me is that these sentences don't actually follow conventional rules at all, that they are simply anomolies with rules of their own.

But ... I don't know, and I'd really like to find out.
Anyone have any clues? Theories?

Rommie
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Comments  
It doesn't need rules for phrasesEmotion: smile. Just a bunch of words, that's all.
No, I believe they are complete sentences, not merely phrases. They do have meaning.
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OhEmotion: smile

To the best of my knowledge, a complete sentence consists of ' Subject and predicate ' and predicate is formed by verb + object. Since there is no verb, it means they are only ' phrases '.
What an idiot!
What a surprise!
What strange people.
How odd.
How interesting.
How absurd.

I think these phrases are ellipses of larger sentences where the rest of the complete thought is left off for emphasis and because the accused is obvious:

What an idiot (he/she is)!
What a surprise (this/that is)!
What strange people (they are).
How odd (this/that is).
How interesting (this/that is).
How absurd (this/that is).

Or is this kind of construction incorrect? It is, of course, easier to say: "He is an idiot," but that doesn't have the same emphatic tone.
Yes, that's what I was getting at. We all know the official rules - sentences must have a verb, and all that, so we don't have to quote the rules to each other. What I was suggesting is that long ago, once upon a time, there were more words in these phrases than there are now, and that, back then, they were complete sentences. At least - that's one possibility. I'm wondering what the missing words were - or if there's another explanation. It's too easy to say "It's just a phrase so the rules don't apply". That may be true, but I'm still curious as to how such a phrase could come about.

"What an idiot she is" -- this is getting better. So now we have a verb. But, syntactically, "An idiot she is" would have done the job just as well. I'm still trying to figure out what the "what" is doing. Maybe somehow it stands for the "she/he/that is"?

Rommie
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Would you say What a gentleman! or What a gentleman he is! or Are both correct? Emotion: tongue tied
I'm having to think about this quite hard because we're outside of rule-book territory here. I believe I would say "What a gentleman". However, the other form, "What a gentleman he is", doesn't sound wrong to me - just something I wouldn't say. I imagine that both are correct, and I'm guessing that (as Chameleon suggested) perhaps the "he is" part has only been dropped in recent times.
Re;
What an idiot!
What a surprise.
What strange people.
How odd.
How interesting.
How absurd.

- Can we call these idiomatic exclamations? If we can, is it necessary to define the roles of their individual words?
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