6

I'm a Spanish speaker so this makes me confused. In the song, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

I would understand

I wonder what you are! ==> Me pregunto que eres (seras)!

But they add HOW before. And I can't find something similar to translate to.

How I wonder what you are!

Google translator doesn't make sense to me:

¡Cómo me pregunto lo que eres!

With these two it doesn't have any problem.

Are you sure? ==> Esta usted seguro?
How are you sure? ==> Como esta usted seguro?

So what is the meaning of that sentence?
Is wondering how become what is now?

  • The "How" is superfluous and may have been included for reasons of rhythm or meter. Poems & songs often have strange wording for similar reasons. – TrevorD Jun 16 '16 at 16:16
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    @TrevorD: It is not "superfluous", as the answers below attest. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jun 16 '16 at 20:55
24

Adding to @HotLick's great answer, the adverb how (See No. 3 definition) can be used as a modifier to

indicate surprise, delight, or other strong feelings.

[Wiktionary]

It has two usages as follows:

  1. It modifies other adjectives or adverbs as in

How very interesting!

How wonderful it was to receive your invitation.‎

How seldom I go there!

  1. It modifies the entire sentence as in:

How it rains! (It rains a lot.)

How I envy you! (I envy you a lot.)

How I wish to go to Paris! (I really want to go to Paris, but I can't.)

How do you like that! (You seem to like that a lot. I am surprised.)

"How I wonder what you are!" means "I wonder what you are a lot (or very often)."

7

It's a modifier to express surprise or strength of meaning.

To put this in context, the "how" works much in the same way that you, as a Spanish speaker, might exclaim "qué fuerte!" instead of just "fuerte!".

5

Two ways of considering it.

One view would be that "how" is used as a simple intensifier -- "I wonder greatly what you are". (This would be the most common understanding, as "how" is often used for such effect.)

The other view would be that "how" implies a sort of "meta wonder" -- "Wondering about your nature is thought provoking".

Of course, since most people learn the song at a very early age they never consider the possibility of such deeper meanings. And, as TrevorD notes, the word is at least partly employed to fill out the meter of the rhyme.

  • Google returns quite a lot of hits for ...little star now I wonder..., which obviously supports the point that it's much influenced by prosodic considerations. – FumbleFingers Jun 16 '16 at 17:17
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    @FumbleFingers - I'm pretty sure I always heard "how" as a child, and would have, even in kindergarten, laughed at someone who insisted it was "now". – Hot Licks Jun 16 '16 at 17:23
  • And Ngram does not find the "Now I wonder" variant. – Hot Licks Jun 16 '16 at 17:26
  • Well, Google Internet only estimates about 3000 hits for how, which is 20 times less than the "standard" version most of us grew up with. But I still think it's enough to imply that a fair number of people want there to be a syllable there, even though this NGram suggests that how in this construction is a declining usage. – FumbleFingers Jun 16 '16 at 17:36
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    My bad - I meant to say the hits for NOW are 20 times less than the standard HOW version (capitalized in this comment, since it took me a few seconds after reading your comment to even notice the difference between lower-case n and my mistyped h :) – FumbleFingers Jun 16 '16 at 17:54

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