Here is an excerpt from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

What is the subject of the sentence marked in bold?

"We need to find her," said Dumbledore. "Professor Mcgonagall, please go to Mr.Filch at once and tell him to search every painting in the castle for the Fat Lady."

"You'll be lucky!" said a cackling voice. It was Peeves the Poltergeist, bobbing over the crowd and looking delighted, as he always did, at the sight of wreckage or worry.

"What do you mean, Peeves?" said Dumbledore calmly, and Peeves's grin faded a little. He didn't dare taunt Dumbledore. Instead he adopted an oily voice that was no better than his cackle.

"Ashamed, Your Headship, sir. Doesn't want to be seen. She's a horrible mess. Saw her running through the landscape up on the fourth floor, sir, dodging between the trees. Crying something dreadful," he said happily.

Here, the Fat Lady who was in the painting had run away, and we can guess from the phrase "Crying something dreadful" that she'd had a great fear.

So I thought she can't be the subject of "ashamed", cause it does not match with "fear". I mean she was just scared. We can't be "ashamed" to see something horrible, right?

But it's also weird to think Peeves as a subject in my opinion, since he doesn't have anything to be ashamed of.

What have I missed here? Who's the subject here?

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    It looks overwhelmingly likely in context that the "deleted" subject+verb is She is, since we can safely assume the next two sentences also both have that same subject. It must be [she] doesn't want to be seen, and she is explicitly stated in the third sentence (after which the fourth sentence has I as the deleted subject of I saw her running...). But although that's the most reasonable interpretation given the meaning of ashamed, if instead Peeves had said, say, Very sorry, Your Headship, that would almost certainly imply I am very sorry. Jan 20, 2018 at 13:34
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    You're misinterpreting "Crying something dreadful", dbwlsld - not surprisingly, because it is not a common expression these days. "Something dreadful" is not referring to a horror, but is just an intensifier, meaning "a great deal". He doesn't say she's seen something frightening, but just that she is crying (weeping) a lot.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 20, 2018 at 20:23
  • @ColinFine Oh so you're saying "sth dreadful" itself means "a lot" or "very much", and it functions as an adverb? like crying a lot?
    – dbwlsld
    Jan 21, 2018 at 1:45
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    @dbwlsld: yes, "something dreadful" means "a lot" or "very much"; but it is rather old fashioned, and mostly used to be used by children. It wouldn't be used with just any verb - you wouldn't say "laughing something dreadful" or "painting something dreadful". I can't quite characterise the kinds of verb it would attach to, but it seems to me they would be about expressing grief or anger, or making a lot of noise. "Something awful" is an alternative. As for the grammar, just treat it as an idiom.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 21, 2018 at 11:11
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    dbwlsld - it's probably a "mistranslation", yes. But I don't know the exact characters or their ways of speaking, so I personally couldn't rule out the possibility that Peeves habitually grovels, apologises, and explicitly expresses his own personal shame in contexts where other people habitually use similar expressions without really meaning what they're saying. "Have you got a light?", "No, I'm sorry - I don't smoke." (where the non-smoker almost certainly doesn't really regret his lifestyle choice). Jan 21, 2018 at 15:24

2 Answers 2


Peeves has a habit of speaking in incomplete sentences. In fact, that dialogue contains four sentence fragments and only one complete sentence. So we must deduce what the sentence fragments mean by supplying the omitted words from context while we remember that "she" is the subject of the only sentence present.

The complete sentence is "she is a horrible mess." Moreover, Peeves saw "her"" running, dodging, and crying. And someone unspecified as to sex is ashamed. It is true that the three present participles may describe someone in fear, but that emotion is not mentioned. The emotion that is mentioned is shame. And those participles may also describe someone feeling shame if we interpret "crying" in the sense of "weeping" rather than "shouting."

Finally, there is what we know of human psychology. Someone may fear becoming a horrible mess in the future, but the emotion likely after having "become" a horrible mess is anger or shame.

So the meaning is "She is ashamed because she has become a horrible mess. Her shame is causing her to hide and weep."

  • Thank you. So the feeling after the fear is "ashamed", and she was ashamed since she ran away, crying a lot. I got it. I couldn't understand because I thought the fat lady was ashamed at the moment she saw something who tried to attack her.
    – dbwlsld
    Jan 21, 2018 at 2:13
  • and can I ask you one more? Here, horrible mess is indicating the fat lady's state, like she was in horror, and it's not Peeves trying to criticize or insult her as a "horrible(terrible) woman", right? then what's the exact meaning of mess here..?
    – dbwlsld
    Jan 21, 2018 at 2:27
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    Having not read the book, I lack context to say. "Horrible mess" may be a description of lack of emotional control or of poor physical appearance or of physical wounds. The sentence fragments imply that Peeves is not very articulate. Jan 21, 2018 at 2:35

The subject is she (the Fat Lady). It seems quite logical that she is ashamed. She is hiding behind trees and crying.

Someone certainly can be ashamed of being afraid. Why could they not be?

The subject is implied in this clause. See https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/145762 for a question and a good answer (the currently most-upvoted one) about the grammar of such.

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