Why does the ability to take normally interrogative words like "what" and "how", and turn them into intensifier adverbs, seem like such a language universal concept?

In Japanese, you can take the interrogative 何, and turn it into the intensifier adverb 何と, just like how English interrogatives can be similarly made into intensifiers.

So ya, why does this seem so universal? What about interrogatives make them so commonly able to derive intensifiers?

1 Answer 1


I'm not sure how universal the use of interrogative words as intensifiers is, but one possibility comes to mind:

People will often spontaneously exclaim "What!?" or "How?!" when something unexpected happens. It seems like a short step from that to applying the same word as an intensifier.

  • 1
    I think that's right. When one is surprised, questions arise. Most of them are Wh-questions, and the question words themselves do duty for the questions, as exclamations.
    – jlawler
    Jun 25, 2017 at 1:15
  • I do not know about Japanese, but in English, Spanish, Italian, French, ...German, .... such wh-words are NOT interrogative, but EXCLAMATIVE, and that is the illocutionary force of the sentences that contain them in such languages. And, of course, that, as a reaction to an unexpected degree of qualities or quantities, speakers of many languages should resort to exclamations expressing surprise, appreciation, etc. seems rather natural. The link with questions, on the contrary, is at best only indirect and less likely, in my view, to explain the phenomenon the OP is interested in.
    – user6814
    Aug 7, 2017 at 18:04

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