My first destination was the plant pathology department because—well, what a better place to find out about plants?

Is it common/idiomatic to ask a question with that structure?


The idiom you're looking for is what better place, not 'what a better place'. It's commonly used as a comparison with 'than', but that does not preclude it from being used in a case such as yours.

Here's an example:

what better place to learn about the forest ecosystem than in a forest

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    Methinks the "than" you mention is even implied in the asker's case, i.e. "...what better place [than that] to find out about plants?" – talrnu Dec 15 '14 at 19:16

It should be What better place [is there] to find out...?.

?What a better place is not the same. I don't believe that phrase actually means anything: if it does, it would be similar to What a good place... which is not a question.

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    Yes. You seem to be conflating two different idioms. In what better place, what functions as a determiner, and the whole phrase is elliptic for something like What better place could there be). Sentences starting _What a, on the other hand, are exclamations, not questions, and almost always continue with "adjective" "noun phrase", where the "adjective" is not comparative. – Colin Fine Dec 15 '14 at 14:32

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