I came across this sentence in Collins Dictionary:

Light mist, fog bank further out in the Channel, smooth, oily swells running.

I can't seem to parse it grammatically. I think "further out in the Channel" is an adverbial phrase modifying one of the subjects "fog bank." But is either smooth or swell the main verb in this sentence? What does this sentence mean, if it is one at all?


Also if it is not a complete sentence, is smooth here a verb, adjective, noun, or adverb? Is swell here a noun or a verb?

  • 3
    There is no tensed main verb. It is am impressionistic description. You might think of it as an "existential" utterance without "There is", and no connector linking the participle clause to the main clause.
    – TimR
    Mar 10, 2018 at 22:57
  • 2
    It's a succession of phrases, as if from a weather forecast. Mar 10, 2018 at 22:59
  • 1
    I agree with Ronald Sole. It's a weather forecast, with an implied "There is (a) ..." at the front of the sentence. We often omit unnecessary words from things like news reports. "Smooth" and "oily" are adjectives that modify the noun "swells", which are a kind of ocean wave.
    – Andrew
    Mar 11, 2018 at 5:17
  • 1
    The source is a novel Cormorant
    – James K
    Mar 11, 2018 at 7:14

1 Answer 1


No verb in the phrase so not a sentence!

A noun, or a noun phrase is generally understood to mean "it is..." or "There is...". This sort of ellipsis is very common in newspaper headlines. You can read this as meaning

(There was) light mist (and a) fog bank further out in the Channel, (with) smooth, oily swells running.

In the example, the effect is different. I agree with the commenter who said it is "impressionistic" We get what the person sees and feels, but not what they think. Writers like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce used expressions like these to "get inside" peoples heads. In this case the sentence comes from a novel, a thriller by Douglas Terman

The last part "smooth, oily swells running" has two adjectives "smooth, oily" (the second used metaphorically). "Swell" is a noun. A "swell" is a long sea wave, which is the subject to the gerund "running". That is part of the idiom "there was a swell running" meaning "there were long waves in the sea".

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