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It’s not easy how I have to read clauses starting with how. I’m going to start this question with a case from Longman –– “He was impressed at how well she could read! (A)”.

Though Longman says how is used to emphasizing with adjective or adverb, Random House says how intensifies not only adjective or adverb but also the whole sentence without them –– “How it rain!, How I envy you!

So far it’s not that hard to follow. But when how-clause becomes a content clause, I’m confusing this exclamative content clause –– “She told me how very aggressive he had been. (CGEL,p991)” and cases in which how is read as conjunction that; the fact that; the way that –– “..referring to how Capone was eventually charged with tax evasion rather than criminal activity”. This aforesaid that-usage is, I guess, based on “in dependent question and exclamations”.

[Q i] Now, what I want to ask is can the Langman’s case (A) be rewritten without meaning change into “He was impressed at how she could read”. The examples below put me up to this question.

1 Then she changed her desk into a pig and back again. They were all very impressed and couldn't wait to get started, but soon realized they weren't going to be changing the furni-ture into animals for a long time. After taking a lot of complicated notes, they were each given a match and started trying to turn it into a needle. By the end of the lesson, only Hermione Granger had made any difference to her match; Professor McGonagall showed the class how it had gone all silver and pointy and gave Hermione a rare smile.

2 Malfoy had been even more unpleasant than usual since the Quidditch match. Disgusted that the Slytherins had lost, he had tried to get everyone laughing at how a wide-mouthed tree frog would be replacing Harry as Seeker next. Then he'd realized that nobody found this funny, because they were all so impressed at the way Harry had managed to stay on his bucking broomstick. So Malfoy, jealous and angry, had gone back to taunting Harry about having no proper family.

– Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, p.134; 195

[Q ii] Now, vice versa, can these two how’s can be rewritten into how well or how good?

  • 1
    This question is based on a misconception. How doesn't really carry any special implications of well or good. The basic meaning is in what way/manner (and that's all it means in OP's examples #1 and #2). Sometimes it means in an extreme manner, as in How we laughed to see such fun! I'd also say Longmans example is relatively uncommon compared to He was impressed by how well she could read! – FumbleFingers Dec 19 '13 at 2:05
  • @FumbleFingers, “How we laughed to see such fun!” -> When this is possible –– “how (loudly) we laughed”, “how (well) it had gone all silver and pointy” isn’t ? That’s what your language goes, would be the answer for my aspect. But what about WordRefernece.com’s #3 - how good; how well? Is this different from my question? – Listenever Dec 19 '13 at 2:22
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    I think wordreference.com's #3 is stretching things a bit. The examples are really just "special cases" of sense #1, where the speaker takes it for granted the reply will be some level of "goodness". But you could ask, for example, "How was your visit to the dentist?" or something else where the expected reply might well be some level of "badness". The implied nuance in such usages is highly context-specific (and usually obvious). But it's not part of the meaning of the word how in and of itself - it's just part of the context in which the word is used. – FumbleFingers Dec 19 '13 at 2:36
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    Here, "how" can be changed into "how well" or "how loudly". Depending on the sentence used, how can have different (or none, rarely) adverbs assigned to it to colour up the sentence. – Jonathan Spirit Dec 19 '13 at 2:47
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"How" describes the way in which something is carried out. To say "How well" is to state the condition of wellness of the action. So, if someone did something very well, then that is showing the condition of the wellness of the action. How Well can not be used in place of every how, only some.

TL;DR:
Q1: No, you cannot remove "well" from that sentence without changing the meaning, otherwise it'll be saying that Langman was impressed by the way she read. I don't see why someone should be impressed by a specific way of reading.
Q2: No, these cannot be rewritten into "how well".

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