If so, what a shock that must have been to her.

  • "What a/an X" is an exclamation.
  • "must" refers to a necessity.

But what's the meaning of the sentence(like sentence above) that combines them together?

The fuller text is here:

Beverly has changed her seat so that she is no longer sitting beside her husband and so that she doesn’t have to see Dana’s shape beneath the sheet. So this is what has become of their weekend away, for which she’d had such hopes. Her marriage facing imminent ruin. Stuck in an isolated hotel in the thrall of a deadly ice storm, without power, sharing the lobby with the corpse of a woman who may have been pushed down the stairs by her wealthy fiancé. If so, what a shock that must have been to her.

1 Answer 1


"Must", like most modals, has two different meanings: a deontic one about necessity or consequence, and an epistemic one about our knowledge (usually the speaker's knowledge).

In this context, must is epistemic, and that must have been means something like I conclude that that was. So the whole sentence means something like "I think that was a great shock for her".

  • 1
    Perhaps from the learner's point of view it might help to paraphrase as I am obliged to conclude that [it was / would have been a shock], since the word must in this context does indeed carry its normal significance of have to, be obliged to. And I think in the general exclamatory construction What a shock it was, What a day I've had, What fun we're having, it might help to note that initial "intensifier" What can (almost?) always be deleted, and the remaining text resequenced with an explicit intensifier to give the intended sense of the exclamation... Aug 25, 2018 at 17:51
  • 1
    It was an extreme shock, I've had an extreme day, We're having extreme fun. Aug 25, 2018 at 17:52

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