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I was reading Harry Potter I. I stumbled over a sentence, written there, whose overall meaning was clear to me but grammatical structure was not clear at all. Here is the sentence:

"Mr. Dursley was enraged to see that a couple of them weren’t young at all; why, that man had to be older than he was, and wearing an emerald-green cloak! The nerve of him!"

Questions:

  1. What kind of use is this "why"?

  2. How does the present participial phrase "and wearing ... cloak!" fit in the sentence grammatically?

Thank you in advance.

  • 1
    Why is a interjection. Go here: english.stackexchange.com/questions/16762/… – deadrat Nov 30 '15 at 10:57
  • Actually that was my guess too. Thank you for confirmation. Will you please help me with the second question? @deadrat – Neel Nov 30 '15 at 11:12
  • Re Q2: it's a dependent clause with an ellipsis - "and [he was] wearing ...". – Lawrence Nov 30 '15 at 12:37
  • @Lawrence how is it a dependent clause ! it must be another main clause joined by "and" if "he was" was not eliminated. – Neel Nov 30 '15 at 14:07
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    Don't forget, that part of the sentence is in Mr. Dursley's voice. It doesn't have to be grammatically perfect, it's mimicking the manner in which this man speaks. – Bekahland Nov 30 '15 at 18:51
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that man had to be older than he was, and wearing an emerald-green cloak!

This is a kind of indirect speech (or really thought) reported by the author. The man originally thought "that man has to be older than me", and "that man is wearing an emerald-green cloak!"

The author is reporting these thoughts, and abbreviating them slightly. It could have been more wordy, such as—

that man had to be older than he was, and (that man was) wearing an emerald-green cloak!

0

"Mr. Dursley was enraged to see that a couple of them weren’t young at all; why, that man had to be older than he was, and wearing an emerald-green cloak! The nerve of him!"

Let's break it down.

"Mr Durseley was enraged to see that a couple of them weren't young at all" - can be treated as a complete sentence. The next part of the sentence logically 'follows on' from that, due to the semicolon.

"why, that man had to be older than he was" - why, an interjection, as mentioned in the comment above.

"and wearing an emerald green cloak!" - this is Mr Dursley expressing his indignation about someone wearing an emerald green cloak in public. The exclamation emphasises how incredulous he is. To him, these people are behaving strangely, and not only that, they are also dressed strangely too.

  • This doesn't really answer my second question! You have just given an explanation! I wanted to know how that present participial phrase is connected to "why,that man had to be older than he was," GRAMMATICALLY. – Neel Nov 30 '15 at 11:41
  • It's connected with a comma and an "and"... it's simply an additional, descriptive statement about the 'older' man. The wording of "why, that man had to be older than he was" is somewhat convoluted I suppose, but it's mimicking the way Mr Dursley would speak aloud. Has that answered your question now? If not, what is it about the grammar that you are finding unclear? – Bekahland Nov 30 '15 at 13:42
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The "why" pronounced [wai] introduces an exclamation (the question and reason adverbs are pronounced [hwai]), so that identifies the following clause as an imperative. The "and" that follows this clause should be followed by another exclamation, because in general, "and" connects constituents of the same category. And verifying that, the second clause is indeed followed with an exclamation point. This gives us the overall structure:

"... [Excl why, that man had to be older than he was], and [Excl wearing an emerald-green cloak!]"

The second clause resembles an absolute construction, since if we were to make its understood subject explicit, it would be:

... with him wearing an emerald-green cloak (and all)!

though I confess that I didn't know before now that an absolute construction could serve as an exclamation.

An interesting example!

  • 1
    Uhh, you sure about that pronunciation difference? – siride Jan 30 '16 at 17:13
  • @siride, Yes, I'm sure, though I know there is no such difference in some dialects. I asked my wife about it, and though she is a linguist, she didn't know about it at all. – Greg Lee Jan 30 '16 at 17:43
  • I just don't see any reason why there would be a difference in pronunication in any dialect, given that the words are the same. Can you provide some sources to indicate that there really is such a distinction? – siride Jan 31 '16 at 16:31
  • @siride No, I haven't found any sources that say the interjection "why", which expresses surprise, is ever pronounced differently from the question or relative "why". (I don't know why you think they're the same.) – Greg Lee Jan 31 '16 at 17:19
  • They come from the same source and are spelled the same. Some similar examples: "I didn't like it that much", "Whatever" (as a dismissive answer), and all the semantic variants of "yes". Words can have a variety of meanings that can drift a lot over time. Sometimes, it does result in a phonetic split (like "of" vs. "off"). If that's the case, there should be some evidence. Do you really pronounce them differently? Have you measured it with, say, Praat? – siride Jan 31 '16 at 21:33

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