She was meant to stay indoors but everything looked varnished and bright after the rain, so she put her coat on and went outside, then came back in and slung the camera over her shoulder. Through the sopping grass and down towards the river. It was wide and brown today, and it rippled and churned. There were deep creases when it went round rocks and a hollow, clunking noise. It looked strong, like a muscle. When she threw in a stick, the stick didn't float on the surface – it got dragged under, as if something had reached up to grab it. She walked along the bank and there was the bridge she'd seen in some of the photos – it had rusty railings and a broken plank in the middle.

It's an excerpt from a novel 'Weathering'. And I've never really read any English novels so these kind of sentences are hard for me to understand..

Does this 'Through the sopping grass and down towards the river.' sentence just describe the background image? There aren't any verb or subject so I'm confused.

Also there are so many 'it's and I don't understand at all what it means.

  • 9
    Omitting the subject and predicate momentarily evokes a sense of raw perception or thought. It is a bit of novelistic trickery which makes it seem as though the narrator has disappeared, and the sense of immediacy that results from this "stream of consciousness" brings the reader closer, briefly, to the mind and perceptions of the character.
    – TimR
    May 28, 2017 at 14:05
  • 3
    Just to say that I, as a native speaker, find that writing comprehensible but rather odd. It feels wrong to my eye. May 28, 2017 at 20:33
  • There seems to be an implied 'she looked', or 'she walked', or 'she went outside again and walked', or whatever, but the fact that you have to ask indicates that it is poor writing, as does the existence of all these possibilities. It is equally possible that the sentence should be inside the previous one after 'went outside'.
    – user207421
    May 28, 2017 at 22:45
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    @FrancisDavey I find the writing somewhat clumsy, though not ungrammatical (except that "a hollow clunking noise" doesn't join grammatically with anything). Native speakers reasonably disagree on grammaticality, of course—dooming "scientific" efforts to establish one official "descriptive" set of rules. Say, you're a lawyer? Maybe you'll enjoy this question about grammaticality. ;)
    – Ben Kovitz
    May 28, 2017 at 23:07

3 Answers 3


Indeed artistic or poetic language, as is often found in novels, can be hard to understand by someone who isn't yet completely fluent in the language.

The incomplete sentence

Through the sopping grass and down towards the river.

This is an incomplete sentence, used for artistic effect. You could fill in the rest of the sentence like this:

She walked through the sopping grass and down towards the river.

A way of speaking, recognized by all fluent speakers, is to say a direction, without a verb, as a command. For example, a sergeant can order soldiers in formation to march by saying "Forward!" It would be very abrupt, but you could order someone to go into a car by saying "Into the car!" The incomplete sentence you found doesn't give an order, but these examples illustrate how a mere prepositional phrase describing a path without a verb easily suggests motion in English: motion along that path. Given the preceding context, which suggests that "she" isn't going to stay indoors, and has just gotten her camera, a (very fluent) reader easily understands that motion is suggested: "she" is moving—probably to a place where she can do something with the camera.

I took a quick look at the surrounding context and found another incomplete sentence like this, a paragraph earlier:

A night of heavy rain which left the trees dripping.

I get the impression that the author intends these incomplete sentences somewhat like "establishing shots" in movies. The author used each of them as transitions. After each one, the author added full sentences that go into more detail about the new scene or location.


Each it that you marked in bold refers to the river. The first It is a little jarring even to a fluent speaker, because the phrasing parallels the way people usually describe the weather: "It was raining", "It is sunny today", etc. Maybe the author intended that parallel, because of the word "today". The ambiguity clears up when you reach "rippled and churned". The only thing mentioned nearby that could be "wide and brown" and could "ripple and churn" is the river.

  • Thank you so much for your kind answer it helped me a lot :) Can I just ask you one more? In this sentence : There were deep creases when it went round rocks and a hollow, clunking noise, what does it mean by 'when it went round'.. or is it 'when it went round rocks'? I don't understand it cause I don't know where to devide the sentences.
    – dbwlsld
    May 29, 2017 at 1:01
  • @dbwlsld the river flowed around a patch of rocks, and there's no sentence divide - "There were deep creases" + "when + "it went round rocks" + "and" + "a hollow, clanking noise."
    – Stephen S
    May 29, 2017 at 1:27
  • 1
    @dbwlsld Can you post a separate question about that sentence? There's actually something not right about it. I've been holding myself back from explaining it. :)
    – Ben Kovitz
    May 29, 2017 at 2:07
  • 1
    @BenKovitz The separate question has been posted here, in case you haven't noticed. May 29, 2017 at 9:21
  • 1
    @ShreevatsaR Thanks! Indeed I hadn't noticed. I'll check it out right now.
    – Ben Kovitz
    May 29, 2017 at 9:23

It is the river that is "wide and brown," and it is also the river that "rippled and churned." It is also the river that "looked strong, like a muscle." So all those it's refer back to the river to which, "through the sopping grass," she's decided to go, especially on a day when "everything looked varnished and bright after the rain."

As to the sentence in bold letters, both the subject and predicate are implicit. It is the woman ("she") that goes through "the sopping grass and down the river."

Every language has this kind of seemingly subjectless and predicateless sentences. Even yours.


The main sentence of your question has already been answered well by Ben who has given a quite complete answer. Reading those lines though it occurs to me that not only is the author attempting poetic licence with the incomplete sentences without predicate but that they are failing to do so in a smooth naturalistic way. From 'came back in and slung the camera over her shoulder' the author disconnects with the incomplete sentence and we find the subject back outside again. It is indeed unclear what then following sentences mean until we've read the whole section and thought about the possibilities. Coupled with the multiple use of the word 'it' to refer to the river this writing is jarring in the extreme. Perhaps the intent of the author is to be jarring, but it's difficult to tell from only a short passage. If the rest of the story is written this way then I'll be happiest avoiding this author.

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