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¡Qué + adjective! x ¡Qué tan + adjective! as an intensifier in an expression of admiration?

4 Answers 4

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I agree with Lambie. For me it's not idiomatic this ordering:

Qué tan bonito muchacho

At least in Spain. It may be grammatically correct.

It should be

Qué muchacho tan bonito

Notice that you can find such ordering in the definition quoted by mdewey (belonging to tanto that is a synonymous for tan)

adv. comp. Pondera la intensidad de la cualidad indicada por el adjetivo o el adverbio al que precede. U. normalmente ante una oración consecutiva. Es tan caro que no podemos permitírnoslo. Iba tan deprisa que no lo vio pasar. U. t. en oraciones exclamativas cuando no se expresa una consecuencia. ¡Qué casa tan grande!

So it's an intesifier but if you use it in this kind of exclamative sentences, you should reorder a bit

Qué amable muchacho
Qué muchacho tan amable

In any case both sentences means the same. The second boy is not necessarily kinder than the first one.

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Searching for tanto in the DLE reveals as definition 19

  1. adv. comp. Pondera la intensidad de la cualidad indicada por el adjetivo o el adverbio al que precede. U. normalmente ante una oración consecutiva. Es tan caro que no podemos permitírnoslo. Iba tan deprisa que no lo vio pasar. U. t. en oraciones exclamativas cuando no se expresa una consecuencia. ¡Qué casa tan grande!

So it intensifies the following adjective or adverb. The last sentence almost mirrors your example.

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¡Qué tan + adjective! is not grammatical in Spanish.
Es un muchacho tan bonito. is OK.

Just like English. [see below how it does not work in English either.\

Qué bonito muchacho.

What a handsome boy.

BUT NOT: What so handsome a boy.

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If I wanted to intensify Qué bonito muchacho, I would say ¡Qué muchacho tan bonito! instead of ¡Qué tan bonito muchacho! alone. However, I agree with others that this last ordering may not be wrong although it sounds unfamiliar to me in that way. Maybe it's more used in regions other than Mexico but I couldn't say for sure.

For example, it's valid to say ¡qué tan luminosa sería su presencia que cuando estaba cerca, solo sentía una infinita alegría!. Here "tan" serves two purposes, to intensify the adjective and to introduce a comparison.

Another way a Mexican will intensify the adjective is with the prefix rete- or requete- ¡Qué muchacho tan retebonito! and in this case ¡Qué tan retebonito muchacho! would also work.

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