1

Sometimes the word "how" can be used, not to indicate "in what manner", or in any other meaning, but somewhat like "that".

In the question confusing hows: (i) used to express surprise, pleasure, etc. (ii) the fact that, the way that, Ghosty said:

In the first example on page 109, "how" can be replaced by "the fact that".

laughing at how a wide-mouthed tree frog would

laughing at the fact that a wide-mouthed tree frog would

...

Again in the Capone example:

referring to how Capone was eventually

referring to the fact that Capone was eventually

and StoneyB said

How3 has taken on what OED 1, How, 10., calls a ‘weakened meaning’ (I would call it a ‘generalized’ meaning) equivalent to the complementizer that. Three of your examples reflect this use:

4 ... how it had gone all silver and pointy

5 ... how a wide-mouthed tree frog would be replacing Harry

6 ... how Capone was eventually charged with tax evasion

When would you use "how" in this sense, and when would you use "that" instead?

Is "how" more casual and conversational?

1

Both "how" and "that" are complementizers. "That" is the more general of the two and can stand in the place of "how," taking on its more specific meaning. "That" as a general complementizer is essentially a connector and it's grammatical meaning/function is to tie two parts of speech together. "How" more specifically denotes a relationship between the two parts of speech it joins as involving some kind of process.

Using the example you provided: "how Capone was eventually charged with tax evasion"

a) "He explained [that] Capone was eventually charged..."

b) "He explained [how] Capone was eventually charged..."

c) "He explained [the process by which] Capone was eventually charged..."

Going from examples a-c, we can see that the complementizer gets more specific. You could use any of these to communicate the same idea, but example c is far more precise in communicating the idea of there being a process involved. Example a) could or could not necessarily communicate the concept of a process. It would depend on the context. If you are reading a text where someone explains the process by which Capone was charged and then later someone says example a), it is clear in that context that "that" is referring to the concept of process. Standing by itself with no context, Example a is more general and doesn't necessarily carry the concept of process.

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