The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Page 919):

8.1.2 Exclamative what

What occurs in NPs with a following noun head: there is no exclamative counterpart to the interrogative what of What did they bring with them?

Does that mean the exclamative what can only be used with a following noun head?

If so, what about this example from Oxford Dictionary?

(in exclamations) emphasizing something surprising or remarkable.

‘what some people do for a crust!’

  • 'Some people' is a NP following 'what'. Could you clarify what you are asking? – Stefan Jan 12 at 9:34
  • @Stefan In the Oxford example, 'some people' does follow 'what', but 'what some people' doesn't constitute an NP. Rather, 'what' is the object of 'do', and 'some people' is the subject. So, I don't think this particular exclamation is what the Cambridge Grammar is describing. – JK2 Jan 12 at 9:51
  • Note that a modern grammar does not describe when something can be used (prescriptive), but rather when it is used (descriptive). – oerkelens Jan 12 at 11:07
  • There's a difference: exclamative "what" is an adjective in NPs, thus in "What a car that was!", "what" is modifying "car". But in "What some people do for a crust!", "what" is not an adjective modifying "people", but a pronoun serving as object of "do". – BillJ Jan 12 at 11:09
  • @BillJ So you agree that 'what' can be used as a pronoun in exclamation. Then, what do you think about the Cambridge Grammar's description of 'what'? According to the book, you can't say What they brought with them! as exclamation. Why this doesn't work when What some people do for a crust! does? – JK2 Jan 13 at 2:54

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