As far as I know I can use this structure(how + adjective + a/an + noun) with singular countable nouns. (The plural form is not possible, nor is using the definite article “the.” )

1- No matter how bad a mood you were in, you shouldn't have gone there. (okay)

2- How soft a pillow do you need? (okay)

3- How long the story is it going to be? (wrong)

But I have seen these following sentences on a journal website and now I am really confused. (I have just learnt the rule I wrote above. Before not knowing it these following sentences would be okay to me but now I don't get it.

4- I can't describe how bad the situation was all night. (I don't know why this one is okay according to the rule)

5- Waiting to hear just how bad the news is. (I don't know why this one is okay according to the rule)

2 Answers 2


The rule you have learned (how+adj+a/an+noun) with the restriction on "the" only applies to direct questions. With reported speech, indirect questions, and direct statements you can use "a/an" or "the."

The following examples all work:

Direct Question:

  • How long a story is it?

Indirect Speech:

  • She asked how long a story it is.

  • She asked how long the story is.

  • I told you how long a story it is.

  • I told you how long the story is.

Direct Statement:

  • How long a story is depends on factors like the complexity of the plot and the amount of dialogue.

  • How long the story is depends on a variety of factors.

In statements and reported speech, using "the" is perfectly fine with both countable and uncountable nouns. The following examples are both fine:

No matter how nice the weather looks, you should always carry an umbrella. (uncountable)

I know how ugly the dress is, but you should still compliment the bride. (countable)


Question (3):

3- How long the story is it going to be?

is indeed wrong. It should be:

3'- How long is the story going to be?

Sentences (4) and (5) are correct because they are the reported versions of these direct questions, where "how bad" is separated from "the situation" (just as "how long" is separated from "the story" in (3')):

4'- How bad was the situation all night?

5'- How bad is the news?

When the questions are reported, the subject with a definite article happens to appear next to "how + adjective," but they are two different structures: subject complement how adjective + subject the noun

  • "How long a story is it going to be?" is correct, though. Either way I don't feel your answer addresses the question, which is whether it is OK to use the direct article with this structure, as in the provided examples.
    – Andrew
    Commented May 1, 2019 at 23:28
  • OP wanted to confirm if using the definite (not direct) article was possible in direct questions with "how + adjective". It is not. "how + adjective" can only be followed by "the" in embedded questions where "the" forms part of the subject.
    – Gustavson
    Commented May 1, 2019 at 23:38
  • @Andrew Has understood my question better. Commented May 1, 2019 at 23:44
  • Let him provide a better answer if he can then. You're welcome @TalhaÖzden
    – Gustavson
    Commented May 1, 2019 at 23:46
  • @Gustavson I am sorry if I offended you. I am trying to figure out how "that/how+adjective+a/an+noun" form works. I have one more question that could provide better understanding to my first question. Is it possible to use this sentence: "They weren't that nice people after all." Commented May 2, 2019 at 0:00

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