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What is the meaning of this sentence?

The road dropped below him twenty feet down to a little stream.

I think it means that the road goes down 20 feet (it goes to the decent). You know, what makes me confused is dropped below him 20 feet down. I can't understand this part! Can you explain it please?

  • I'd never read The Yearling but unless there's another place in the book where this phrase or one like it occurs, the OP is a misquote. The east bank of the road shelved suddenly. It dropped below him twenty feet to a spring. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 24 '18 at 14:06
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Another way of saying that a person is on a road is "the road below him". We could move the phrase to be immediately after the road and it would have the same meaning, and would be a little clearer:

The road below him dropped twenty feet down to a little stream.

The phrase "down to a little stream" means "downward towards a little stream".

To drop can mean "to descend". When using this phrase of roads (and not of freight elevators, say) the descent is on a slope.

The road on which he was traveling descended twenty feet to a little stream. Presumably he crosses that stream.

I don't think we can be as confident as Peter is that the distance referred to here is vertical. The stream could easily be twenty feet ahead (down the slope, down the hypotenuse, as it were) and the same words could be used.

Now, if the road was making a kind of steep corkscrew turn (it might be, we don't have enough context to say) then Peter could be correct in his understanding that the vertical distance is being referred to here.

  • "twenty feet down" means a vertical drop. A horizontal distance would be "twenty feet ahead". – Peter Shor Dec 24 '18 at 13:11
  • Peter, it can mean that but does not necessarily mean that. When the context is the descending slope of a road, the phrase can refer to the horizontal distance. A very possible meaning is "There was a stream twenty feet ahead of him down the slope." One can easily parse it as "down to a little stream" not "twenty feet down". Indeed, the latter is not quite idiomatic if referring to a vertical fall. We don't say of a man who falls from a ladder "He fell twenty feet down" but "He fell twenty feet". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 24 '18 at 13:15
  • Falling from a ladder, you don't need the down because it's redundant. When you fall off a ladder, you almost always fall down. You would say "He climbed down 20 feet from the window", not "He climbed 20 feet from the window." – Peter Shor Dec 24 '18 at 13:34
  • Why is down not redundant with drop? A flaw in your logic? Can we drop up? We can drop by or drop over, but that is a different sense. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 24 '18 at 13:35
  • If they had just said "The road below him dropped twenty feet to a little stream," it wouldn't be clear whether it was twenty feet ahead or twenty feet down. By adding the down, it makes it clear that it's a vertical distance of twenty feet. Down isn't redundant here with drop (unless you use your interpretation of the sentence). – Peter Shor Dec 24 '18 at 13:44
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It means that the road dropped in front of him/before him 20 feet and it leads/comes to a stream.

  • Below doesn't mean before. – Peter Shor Dec 24 '18 at 12:27
  • @PeterShor i know – user85640 Dec 24 '18 at 12:29
  • You have left the subject and verb out of your that-clause, so your meaning is unclear. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 24 '18 at 12:59
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It means that the road goes down a total of 20 feet vertically from where he's standing (it's not clear how much horizontal distance it takes to do this) and reaches a little stream.

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