Many languages, Spanish and English included, use the same words for both questions and exclamations. Words like qué (what), cómo (how), and cuánto (how many) may primarily be interrogative words, but they are also exclamatory words that are used to simply state an idea or opinion with surprise or amazement. Frequently, phrases containing these words use exclamation marks (don't forget Spanish uses an additional initial upside down exclamation mark), but sometimes that's not even necessary, because the meaning of these expressions can be easily inferred from the context. Let's do a quick review.
Cómo (how) is used exactly the same way in Spanish and English. In one of our videos, Sor Angelica expresses how much she missed the bakery goods served at the convent:
Mmm... Ay, Padre Manuel, cómo extrañaba este pancito casero.
Mmm... Oh, Father Manuel, how I missed this homemade bread.
Caption 1, Muñeca Brava - 33 El partidoPlay Caption
Qué (what) is also used as an exclamatory word in both languages. One important difference between Spanish and English here is that Spanish never uses an article between the word qué and the noun or adjetive it modifies:
Qué grandísimo músico.
What a great musician.
Caption 49, David Bisbal - Haciendo Premonición LivePlay Caption
Another difference is that Spanish allows the use of qué in many more cases than English, which must resort to the use of "how" instead, as you can see in the following examples:
¡Pero qué inteligente!
But how smart!
Caption 6, Muñeca Brava - 43 La reuniónPlay Caption
Bueno, qué grande la tienda, ¿eh?
Well, how big the store is, huh?
Caption 81, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricosPlay Caption
When used as an exclamatory word, qué can be replaced by a fancy word: cuán (how). This, however, is less common than qué, and it's mostly used in literary works. So, in the previous examples you can also use: cuán grandísimo músico, cuán inteligente, cuán grande, etc. Here is an example of cuán in one of our videos. Speaking of grandísimos músicos, here is an example of cuán in the lyrics of a song interpreted by the famous Chilean singer Chico Trujillo:
Para que te cuenten cuán grande es mi dolor
So they tell you how big my pain is
Caption 10, Chico Trujillo - Quémame los ojosPlay Caption
Cuánto (how much) can be used in front of nouns and verbs to express surprise at an amount of something. To modify a verb, one must always use the singular masculine form: cuánto.
¡Ay, señora Angélica,
Ah, Madame Angelica,
cuánto hacía que no bajaba por aquí!
it's been so long since you last came down here!
Caption 54, Muñeca Brava - 44 El encuentroPlay Caption
To modify a noun, cuánto must match the noun in gender and number:
¡Cuántos frijoles hubiéramos hecho!
How many beans we would have produced!
Caption 28, Con ánimo de lucro - CortometrajePlay Caption
¡Cuántas penurias pasamos el año pasado!
How many scarcities we had last year!
¡Cuánto dolor te he causado!
How much pain I've inflicted upon you!
To end this lesson we want to share something that may be new to you. In Spanish you can combine the use of exclamation and interrogation marks when an expression is both a question and an exclamation. According to the Real Academia Española, there are three possible ways to do it correctly. See below. Bet you didn't know the first two were even possible!
¡Cómo te atreves?
¿Cómo te atreves!
¿¡Cómo te atreves!?
How dare you!?
¡Cuánto hemos aprendido hoy, verdad? (How much we learned today, right?!)