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I am attempting to help a student with a particular sentence:

  • What an amazingly wise creature God made in the otter!

The exercise asks him to identify if the sentence is active or passive. That question has been answered (active), but we are attempting to determine the parts of speech and uses in a sentence for the rest of it. Here’s what we believe right now.

“God” is the subject. “Made” is the verb. “An amazingly wise” are adjectives modifying “creature,” which we believe to be the Direct Object. We are unable to determine what “what” is and how it is used in this sentence.

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    What a fool I am! (and the stylistically inverted What a fool am I! = I am [a noteworthy example of] a fool! By the same token, What an amazingly wise creature God made in the otter! = God made an amazingly wise creature in the otter! But I don't think "the naming of the parts" is a useful exercise when considering the structure of exclamatory utterances like this."Parts of speech? What good are they here?" Nov 3 '20 at 18:05
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    The exclamatory form is unfamiliar nowadays, but try this trick -- if you can account for Wh-questions, change this into one by Do-support, auxiliary inversion, and swapping the bang for a question mark: What an amazingly wise creature did God make in the otter? In this question, every word (except the dummy do) has the same sense and grammar that it does in the exclamation. Nov 3 '20 at 18:05
  • @John Lawler: Is it an exclamatory pronoun then?
    – user403195
    Nov 3 '20 at 18:10
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    @Pkjmm: What is a Wh-pronoun. Exclamatory isn't a technical term, but a description meaning 'used during exclaiming'. Nov 3 '20 at 18:14
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    Exclamative “what” is an adjective functioning as an external modifier. It always occurs in NPs with a following head, where it questions quality or degree. Don't confuse it with interrogative "what", as in "What was that?", which is a pronoun questioning identity. Btw, "what an amazingly wise creature" is object of "made".
    – BillJ
    Nov 3 '20 at 20:09
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What an amazingly wise creature God made in the otter!

Exclamative "what" is an adjective functioning here as an external modifier. It always occurs in NPs with a following head, where it questions quality or degree.

Don't confuse it with interrogative "what", as in "What was that?", which is a pronoun questioning identity.

"What an amazingly wise creature" is object of "made".

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In the terms of the Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language "what" is here an intensifying determiner (CGEL, § 2.57, p. 88). It is equivalent to "such" (CGEL, § 18.57, p. 1416).

  • What an amazingly wise creature God made in the otter!
  • God made such an amazingly wise creature in the otter!
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  • Nah! It's an adjective.
    – BillJ
    Nov 3 '20 at 19:21
  • How can it be a determiner when there is already the determiner "an"? It actually functions as an external modifier. Note that two adjacent determiners are not permitted in English.
    – BillJ
    Nov 3 '20 at 19:50
  • @BillJ According to my reference, it is a determiner; this, of course, does not mean that it should be a central determiner, as "a" (an) and "the" for instance, it is not; it is a type of determiner called "predeterminer. The coexistence is therefore no problem: the three types of determiners are regularly found in combinations where they are adjacent to one another. If you make of "what" an adjective how do you explain the place of that adjective before the central determiner "an"?
    – LPH
    Nov 3 '20 at 20:17
  • @BillJ What quality does that would-be adjective, what, confer to the the noun "creature"?
    – LPH
    Nov 3 '20 at 20:27
  • A predeterminer is not a determiner but a modifier. The term 'predeterminer' means occurring before the determiner, not a kind of determiner. As I said, it's here an external modifier, where it modifies the NP "an amazingly wise creature"
    – BillJ
    Nov 3 '20 at 20:27

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