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I’m translating an English novel into Italian but I’m stuck on the meaning of one sentence and I was wondering if you could help me:

Why—his voice seemed to draw out soft and subtle, it penetrated her nerves—why, what do you think it is?

  • Could you give some more context, i.e., the sentences surrounding this sentence? There are several ways I can think of interpreting draw out, but it’s impossible to tell which is the correct one without knowing what the greater context is. It definitely has to do with the way his voice comes out of him, how it sounds—but a more detailed description requires the whole scenario. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 23 '14 at 10:40
  • In that context, it means "come out [out his mouth], taking its own sweet time". In general, to "draw out" either means to "protract / prolong" or "elicit". In your quote, it's that his speech is protracted (for the meaning of "induce to emerge" to apply here, the verb would have to have been used transitively, but in your quote it's used intransitively). – Dan Bron Aug 23 '14 at 10:50
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    @JanusBahsJacquet I think the actual quote is: "His voice seemed to draw out soft and subtle, it penetrated her nerves" I'd say prolongare = draw out and dolcemente = soft and gentle – Mari-Lou A Aug 23 '14 at 11:50
  • Note the confusion / whatever with drawn out (with an "n") – Fattie Aug 23 '14 at 13:35
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To draw out here means to elongate. It's typically used non-reflexively, as in "drawn-out goodbye" and "to draw out limited supplies".

Here it is used in a reflexive sense, the voice draws itself out, the words are spoken slowly and with pauses between them, so his manner seems languid and indifferent.

The Italian equivalent might be strascicare, to drag or scuff.

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"Draw out" here just means "come out" or "flow out", you could translate with "fluire" or even "esalare" (exhale) and similar.

On Wiktionary (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/draw) you can see the meaning

To take into the lungs; to inhale.

All such senses are related to the etymological meaning, "pull": in this context you could also say blow.

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In a word, you can't use "draw out" intransitively. it's half a phrase; it should be "draw out noun."


Personally... since "draw out" means, uh, "draw out"

(as in say "draw out a piece of string" ... so, it means basically "pull out")

I would personally be inclined to only use it in that way.

So for example:

his voice seemed to draw out beauty, it penetrated all her lips ..

or whatever

For me personally "his voice seemed to draw out soft and subtle" simply makes so sense.

After the "draw out" I'm looking for .. what did it draw out? string? beauty? mystery? body fluids?

(For me, poetry that is just "pretty phrases" ("poetic" phrases) is weak poetry. For me, poetry is ingeniously stating reality, not merely "using poetic words". So for example, from Shakespeare, "as in my salad days, when I was green in judgment, cold in blood." Note that the words have incredible striking meaning which make you think deeply, but they're just ordinary words, not "poetic sounding" words or phrases.)

Again, quite simply, "draw out" means "draw out" so, in a word, you need something after it .. draw out love, draw out my heart ... whatever you actually mean.

If it was a lame-ass creative writing class, here I'd say "well WHAT, SPECIFICALLY is he drawing out that is so amazing it makes her pee her pants? WHAT is he drawing out?"

  • Hey B-ster. sure, that was an example from shakespeare, i clarified the sentence dude. good one – Fattie Aug 23 '14 at 13:54
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    No, bud, his voice drew out of his body, as if someone were pulling it soft and slow, like a silken ribbon (or an elastic band streeeetching). It's simile. It makes perfect sense (which is why no one else is questioning it). – Dan Bron Aug 23 '14 at 14:01
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    @Joe Blow: This is clearly an intransitive use of the phrasal verb "draw out". You can say "his voice seemed to tremble", and you wouldn't ask "tremble what"? The OED has one intransitive definition of "draw out" that seems to fit: "to extend in length; to become longer". And that's what I think it means here. – Peter Shor Aug 23 '14 at 14:05
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    @joeblow For me green means red and up means down. Good thing we have dictionaries, so we know what words mean for everyone else, eh? – Dan Bron Aug 23 '14 at 14:11
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    @Joe Blow: Since Lawrence's sentence only makes sense if draw out is used intransitively, and the OED says that it can be used intransitively, I think it's pretty clear that he is using it intransitively, even if this use isn't part of your dialect of English. If he used the word puttees, and you didn't know it, I assume you wouldn't insist he was making the word up, but would instead look it up in a dictionary. – Peter Shor Aug 23 '14 at 15:55

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