Look at the sentence, please:

She reminded me of a sonatina by an old Italian composer with its wistfulness in which there is yet an urbane flippancy and its light rippling gaiety in which echoes still the trembling of a sigh

(Source: Somerset Maugham, Cakes and Ale; or, The Skeleton in the Cupboard).

I don't understand why the word ‘still’ is placed after the verb ‘echoes’.

One guess: is it an inversion? Instead of ‘in which the trembling of a sigh still echoes’ we have this order. Does it mean that in such case the words ‘still’ and ‘echoes’ go to the beginning of the phrase and change their places?


  • 1
    This might sound hypocritical coming from me, but I don't think every answer needs a full, in-depth explanation ;)
    – SamBC
    Feb 7 '19 at 15:14
  • @SamBC: Maybe so, but (with some justification, I fully accept) the mods sometimes get a bit ticked off with me for commenting rather than posting an actual Answer. Feb 7 '19 at 15:18

It's called Stylistic Inversion. Just my opinion, but I think in your specific case the primary effect (apart from making the text more overtly "poetic") is to slightly "amplify" the adverb still. Because it's not where we'd normally expect it (before the verb echoes), we notice it more, and thus we're more aware of the meaning it imparts. Basically, it makes the reader pay closer attention, which is exactly what the author wants.

Note that there's no particular "rule" saying that just because still echoes has been "inverted", this should affect whether the subject + verb (the trembling of a sigh + echoes) is inverted. Or vice-versa. All 3 permutations (adverb after verb, verb before subject, or both) are perfectly valid.

Also note that the simplest "Subject + Verb" inverted form is normally associated with ordinary questions rather than "poetic / literary style". That's to say Echoes still the trembling of a sigh? as a standalone utterance is a credible (albeit somewhat "highfalutin") question. But in practice we'd probably introduce "do-support" there, and ask Does the trembling of a sigh still echo?

  • So then in which cases would be such question applicable: Echoes still the trembling of a sigh? Feb 7 '19 at 15:39
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    Definitely in the case of poetry - for example, Stands the Church clock at ten to three? \ And is there honey still for tea? But in ordinary conversation the first question would normally feature do-support (Does the Church clock stand at ten to three?), and the second would use the more "natural" sequence Is there still honey for tea? Feb 7 '19 at 15:45
  • And Fumblefingers, can you help me some more? In the next paragraph there is such phrase in brackets: sometimes she looked like the exqisite statue of Psyche in the museum at Naples (it's about Rosie). Why at Naples, not in? Feb 7 '19 at 17:09
  • That's probably just because the text is almost a century old, and "default, preferred" usages change over time. It's not wrong to use at there - just that we'd be much more likely to use in today. Feb 7 '19 at 19:10

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