In the article Raindrop from the book What If?, there is a sentence:

On the horizon to the southwest, ominous-looking clouds begin to appear. The towers build as they draw closer, the tops spreading out into an anvil shape.

What does it mean? Draw closer means approaching, and tower as a noun has no meaning other than a building. I understand that this might be a metaphor, but then why it is in active voice? Doesn't it make more sense in saying:

As they (the cloud) draw closer, the towers are built.

And there is more than one tower. Shouldn't it have only one? I am thinking about the tower of the tornado:

enter image description here

  • You could consider tower to be a descriptive term for the forming cloud. The 'building' might be due to (visual) perspective as the speaker gets closer to it, or it might be getting bigger in reality. Regarding the simple present (build), this is consistent with the style of the rest of the paragraph. Using the passive voice for that portion isn't necessarily better.
    – Lawrence
    Mar 30, 2017 at 10:17

1 Answer 1


The author is actually mentioning about the cumulonimbus cloud:

Cumulonimbus, from the Latin cumulus ("heap") and nimbus ("rainstorm", "storm cloud"), is a dense towering vertical cloud associated with thunderstorms and atmospheric instability, forming from water vapor carried by powerful upward air currents. If observed during a storm, these clouds may be referred to as thunderheads.


Well-developed cumulonimbus clouds are characterized by a flat, anvil-like top (anvil dome)

enter image description here

Interesting question from Aviation SE: Why is the Cumulonimbus cloud formation so dangerous?

  • The author describes the 'towers' of cloud as building themselves. Feb 28, 2017 at 9:25
  • yes, but it seems that in science context the only the verb is used
    – Ooker
    Feb 28, 2017 at 17:49

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