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I want to understand the underlying structure of "How + adjective + subject + verb"

ex) how selfish we are.

Here's my opinion. As the form of indirect question, subject and verb inversion has taken place.

How + adjective + verb + subject -> How + adjective + subject + verb

ex) How selfish are we? -> How selfish we are.

Furthermore, I thought adjective has inverted ahead of subject to be emphasized.

How + verb + subject + adjective -> How + adjective + verb + subject

How are we selfish -> How selfish are we

(I think this is basic/underlying structure.-how we are selfish)

So my opinion is that sentence is changed in this order.

'How are we selfish -> How selfish are we -> How selfish we are'

My question is

1) "How are we selfish -> How selfish are we" Did this process occur due to emphasize the adjective 'selfish'?

2) If not, I want to know what process happened in this sentence.

*I heard that 'How' attracts adjective 'selfish' in some reason

*Adjective 'selfish' is pre-positioned due to emphasize..?

*In addition, the entire sentence was "At that moment, I realized how selfish we are, not sharing the things we are blessed with in life."

Thank you.

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  • There’s no inversion in I realized [how selfish] we are. The subordinate exclamative content clause is marked by the exclamatory word “how” which enters into the structure of the bracketed exclamatory phrase obligatorily fronted in the exclamative clause functioning as complement of “realized”. Internally, the adverb "how" modifies "selfish". The exclamative phrase can be linked with a gap to “be”: “I realized [how selfish] we are ___ .”
    – BillJ
    Nov 9 '21 at 13:20
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There is more difference due to word order than just emphasis. Also, it is not only subject-verb inversion.

Consider "how selfish we are." It is not really a complete sentence, but a fragment with something implied in front of it. It could be something like "Look at how selfish we are." That is, "how selfish we are" is a pointer to a quality of us.

This might be used by somebody writing an editorial in a newspaper, with the editor looking down his nose and trying to get people to donate more to the Red Cross or something. "How selfish we are. We can't even donate as much as Shelbyville. Tut tut."

Now consider "How selfish are we?" This is now a complete question. It is asking how much of a particular characteristic we have.

The newspaper editor might use it so. "How selfish are we? Are we as bad as those people from Shelbyville? Are we really going to cancel our donations?"

The two have the same effect, but one is a statement, one a question.

The other one is "How are we selfish?" This is asking for information about the ways in which we are selfish.

The newspaper editor might use it so. "We gave more than Shelbyville. How are we selfish? Compared to them, we are very generous."

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  • Thank you for your effort :) The entire sentence was "At that moment, I realized how selfish we are, not sharing the things we are blessed with in life." Nov 9 '21 at 3:58
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    "How selfish we are" is a complete sentence, and not a question. It means, "We are so selfish."
    – gotube
    Nov 9 '21 at 3:58
  • There’s no inversion in "I realized [how selfish] we are". The exclamative content clause is marked by the exclamatory word “how” which enters into the structure of the bracketed exclamatory phrase obligatorily fronted in the exclamative clause functioning as complement of “realized”. Internally, the adverb "how" modifies "selfish". The exclamative phrase can be linked with a gap to “be”: “I realized [how selfish] we are ___ .”
    – BillJ
    Nov 9 '21 at 13:23

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