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While I read the novel 'Rain', one sentence looks awkward to me. the sentence is below

in his ears hammered still the harsh notes of the mechanical piano

I think it means that he heard the harsh notes of the mechanical piano but I don't understand how 'ears' can hammer the harsh notes. What is subject and verb in this sentence?

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  • 3
    It's a somewhat poetic way of saying that he was still affected by the sound.
    – Lawrence
    Sep 9, 2017 at 14:21
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    The notes hammered (in his ears). The normal order of subject and verb has been reversed. Both existing answers are correct.
    – Mozahler
    Sep 10, 2017 at 3:23
  • It may also be useful to know that in English, this construction most often occurs when talking about places. For example, "in the window sat a woman" sounds a lot more natural to me (native British English speaker) than the example in the question. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… for some more examples.
    – Joe Malt
    Sep 10, 2017 at 13:13

2 Answers 2

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The sentence uses inverted subject-verb order for poetic effect. If we rewrite the sentence in a more typical order, it should be clear:

The harsh notes of the mechanical piano (S) still hammered (V) in his ears.

Other examples of inverted word order:

At the moon howled the lonely wolf.

In the park played the laughing children.

On his laptop computer furiously typed the frustrated writer.

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  • Is it a valid grammar? I thought there is only one way to place words in English.
    – Exerion
    Sep 13, 2017 at 13:32
  • @Exerion The best way to learn another language is to read as much as possible in that language, and engage with native speakers. Then you will come across such poetic lines as "Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer, “Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore" from The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe which uses an inverted word order. It's poetic, not conversational.
    – Andrew
    Sep 13, 2017 at 14:04
  • this answers some different question. Is it a valid grammar or 'poetic' just can break grammar rules because it's poetic?
    – Exerion
    Sep 13, 2017 at 14:08
  • @Exerion it's a pointless distinction. Surely in your own language there are poetic devices which you can use in ordinary conversation or expository writing, which are grammatically valid but change the perception of what you say? English is no different.
    – Andrew
    Sep 13, 2017 at 14:12
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The subject is the harsh notes of the mechanical piano.

The verb is hammered and is intransitive, taking no object. ("Hammer" meaning "hit with force" can be transitive or intransitive.)

The word order is V - S, with the verb preceded by a prepositional phrase (in his ears) and followed by an adverb (still).

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