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The jetties coming out into the river, and a host of ships in the Middle Ages, little wooden ships ferrying produce across from the Continent and back. (Source)

The structure of the whole sentence is quite confusing to me: how can I understand it?

I looked it up here. I would have picked the fourth meaning,

if you produce an object, you bring it out or present it, so that people can see or consider it

When challenged, he produced a gun.

But produce is not transitive in my example.

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    Which dictionaries have you consulted? Do you think that word is a noun or a verb? – James K Apr 19 '18 at 14:13
  • @JamesK Thanks for commenting. I looked it up here. I would have picked the fourth meaning, if produce is not transitive there. – user69307 Apr 19 '18 at 14:19
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    @benny - Scroll down at that dictionary link and look for the noun definition (main definition 2). It should make a lot more sense. – Canadian Yankee Apr 19 '18 at 14:47
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    @Benny I've incorporated your comment into the question. It is now clear why you are confused. Remember you can edit your questions, instead of adding information in comments. – James K Apr 19 '18 at 14:57
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    I can't find that sentence at the source you linked to. When I search for "jetties", the sentence ends at "in the Middle Ages", there's nothing about produce. – Barmar Apr 20 '18 at 3:37
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You've got to scroll down further on your definition page to:

Definition of produce

prod-uce: noun [uncountable]
food or other things that have been grown or produced on a farm to be sold

You see that produce can also be a noun, so it means crops, food, or other things produced on a farm (and, might I add, elsewhere as well.)

Therefore, the sentence means:

The jetties coming out into the river, and a host of ships in the Middle Ages, little wooden ships ferrying things produced on farms across from the Continent and back.

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    Worthwhile to note, as the link does, that the two are generally pronounced differently. The verb is with a short O, the noun is with a long O. – Matthew FitzGerald-Chamberlain Apr 19 '18 at 15:58
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    @MatthewFitzGerald-Chamberlain Indeed. It's one of the many Initial-stress derived nouns in English. – Mark S. Apr 19 '18 at 17:21
  • And you don't really need to scroll down to discover that it has multiple meanings: the top of the page contains a listing of its "word family", including a link to the noun "produce". – amalloy Apr 19 '18 at 17:27
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    In my experience with modern American English, it typically refers to fruits and vegetables. – jpmc26 Apr 20 '18 at 6:35
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    @Wilson those are "products" not "produce". Once it's processed from its raw state, it becomes a product. – Pete Kirkham Apr 20 '18 at 8:53
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The reason that you are confused is that "produce" (with the stress on the second syllable) is a verb. But "produce" (with the stress on the first syllable) is a noun, and it is the noun that is being used here.

In this context "produce" means "fresh food, vegetables, etc"; basically anything you get from a farm. It is a non-count noun. So your quote can be glossed:

... little wooden ships carrying food across to the continent and back.

If I remember my history I think that wine was carried from France to England, and wool was taken from England to France.

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    Yes, pointing out that difference in pronunciation here is important. – Lambie Apr 19 '18 at 15:17
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    @Lambie aha, it’s actually a documentary, and I listened to it again. Indeed, the street is on the second syllable! I just missed that point! – user69307 Apr 19 '18 at 15:21
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    You're missing a closing parenthesis. – Kat Apr 19 '18 at 21:42
  • xkcd 859 – James K Apr 19 '18 at 21:45
  • @JamesK what's that? – user69307 Apr 19 '18 at 22:26
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I think a bit part of the problem is that the whole passage has no main verb: it isn't a well-formed sentence, but rather a verbless sentence fragment; one long noun-phrase describing a scene. "Ferrying" is a verb but is active only within a subordinate part; and "produce" as has been noted is here as a noun.

I see that it's from a script. It's common in stage directions to have descriptions of what is to be shown: "A man's apartment, with a window facing trees, and a writing desk on the left". So that's what this is. It's a nice word-picture, rather like we're zooming slowly in what might be a still picture, and then realizing that the boats are actually moving.

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  • It's not a stage direction, it seems to be part of a list of things that the narrator is describing. – Barmar Apr 20 '18 at 3:39
  • I think CCTO is saying that this fragment from a documentary script is like a stage direction, not that it is one. – Toby Speight Apr 20 '18 at 14:15

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