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The context:

He had seen it lying in the window of a frowsy little junk-shop in a slummy quarter of the town (just what quarter he did not now remember) and had been stricken immediately by an overwhelming desire to possess it

Just to elaborate a little bit more on what I was confused about. The sentence seems to be a declarative sentence but somehow inverted to me and lacks something. (however, when I read it out loud, it sounds perfect to me).

My understanding/way of expressing the content would be:

He did not remember now just which quarter it was.

Could someone help me explain the grammar of this sentence please? And if possible, could you give me more similar examples please?

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  • 2
    Welcome! It would be helpful to include the fuller context of the sentence you are asking about. From that single short sentence, I can tell that the the "quarter" has been introduced in a previous sentence, but there is not enough information provided here to know what type of quarter is meant. Dec 10, 2021 at 1:32
  • see here - english.stackexchange.com/questions/360421/…
    – Phil Sweet
    Dec 10, 2021 at 2:07
  • 1
    Suppose the quote were "...a frowsly little junk shop in a slummy street (just what street he did not now remember)..." Would the grammar be clear in that case?
    – The Photon
    Dec 10, 2021 at 5:20
  • Your understanding is correct.
    – Ben
    Dec 12, 2021 at 18:40

5 Answers 5

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As I think Phil Sweet was trying to indicate in his comment, this is an example of OSV word order:

  • O = direct object ("just what quarter")
  • S = subject ("he")
  • V = verb ("did not now remember") (actually not just a verb but the entire remaining predicate, having already fronted the direct object)

This constitues a main clause that is jammed into the middle of the surrounding sentence. That is perfectly fine, because the parentheses suggest that this is a parenthetical expression, so it does not need to be integrated into the syntax of the rest of the sentence.

(Some people will use different terminology, but I hope that what I've laid out is clear.)

Since you asked for a similar example:

I like green jelly beans (the other types I dislike intensely) and often eat gigantic handfuls of them.

  • O = "the other types"
  • S = "I"
  • V = "dislike intensely"
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  • 1
    Your "jelly beans" example demonstrates that a preposed complement must have a link to the preceding discourse, i.e. "the other types" refers to the previously-mentioned "green jelly beans".
    – BillJ
    Dec 12, 2021 at 8:14
  • @BillJ Yes, thanks, I didn’t mean to imply that the parenthetical remark could be entirely random. We want it to make sense! Dec 12, 2021 at 16:08
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Just what quarter he did not now remember.

This is an example of preposing, where it is the complement "just what quarter" (the object of "remember") that is preposed. The non-preposed equivalent would be "He did not now remember just what quarter".

Importantly, a preposed complement serves as a link to the preceding discourse, and must be clearly related to information introduced there. In this case, the complement relates to the earlier mention of "a frowsy little junk-shop in a slummy quarter of the town".

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Your understanding of the meaning of

just what quarter he did not now remember

as

he just now did not remember which quarter it was

is incorrect. The 'just' does not apply to the time, but to the location. So it means

he did not remember exactly which quarter

Lexico has

quarter

4 A part of a town or city having a particular character or use.
a beautiful port city with a fascinating medieval quarter

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  • Wiki talks about city quarters
    – CGCampbell
    Dec 10, 2021 at 12:51
  • I like this answer best. I would clarify that "just" means "exactly" here. Dec 11, 2021 at 3:42
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Longer quote...

He had seen it lying in the window of a frowsy little junk-shop in a slummy quarter of the town (just what quarter he did not now remember) and had been stricken immediately by an overwhelming desire to possess it.

A "quarter" of the town ... See if you can find this under "quarter" in a dictionary.

In our quote, the narrator does not remember the location of the junk-shop: in which quarter of the town it was.


This is an answer to the original version of the question.

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  • This answer did not respond to the original and much shorter question, which was Could someone help me explain the Grammar of this sentence please?. The subsequent edits helped clarify but in any case, the OP never asked about the meaning.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 14, 2021 at 8:52
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Parentheses will let you get away with almost anything. Sentenced to 30 years (suspended), for example. In this case, the parentheses suggest we are explaining a noun before them -- some noun in the hierarchy of prepositional phrases there. That could be the town ("Boston"), or the frowsy little junk-shop ("maybe it was Macy's?"), or as in this case the quarter ("Park Avenue"). We could fill them with a complete sentence ("His wife once told him she had been born there"); we might even add a period if we'd like. (We are certainly not obliged to do so.) The parentheses identify their contents as a hint outside the flow of grammar entirely, more or less.

Even so, the reader expects some part of speech inside, and seizes upon the noun, "quarter". "what quarter?" would work, as would "a quarter that he could not now remember". The more the merrier! Using "what" this way might verge on what is considered nonstandard - see Wiktionary, which gives "that bloke what I saw earlier" as an example of replacing "which", as opposed to replacing "that which" which they say is standard. Nonetheless, "what quarter he did not now remember" is the equivalent of "he did not now remember what quarter", which is extremely common, even if "what" does replace "which" rather than "that which". I'll leave it to a real grammar expert to riddle that part out...

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