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We sometimes say, "What a catch!" (in Spanish, "Qué atrapada!) or, "What a wonderful world!" (in Spanish, "¡Qué mundo maravilloso!")

Why do we use "a" in those phrases? After all, when we translate "¡Qué elegancia!" that just becomes "What elegance!"

So, my question is: When should I include the "a", and when should I leave it out?

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2 Answers 2

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Note that we use pretty much the same pattern in ordinary declaratives:

That was a fine catch, and
It's a wonderful world, but
She has such elegance.

Catch and world designate entities—an action and a physical object—but elegance designates an abstract quality (really just a nominal derivative of an adjective) which may be ascribed to an entity.

By the same token, we do not speak of an elegance or of elegances, except to mark the fact that we are speaking of one or more distinct instances of elegance.

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A simple grammar rule:

We say:

What wonderful coffee! What tasty lemonade!

  1. Those are mass nouns.

What a wonderful world!
What great song!

  1. World is not a mass noun. It is a countable noun.

And finally, in Spanish, words about states or conditions, do not take a determiner.

"Such elegance!" OR "What elegance!" "¡Qué elegancia!"

Nor do single nouns take determiners in Spanish here:

""¡Qué buena comida!"

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