These triumphs were not enough to preserve him from the consequences of the merging of Aberdeen’s two Universities in 1860 when, incredibly, the powers that be decided that it was Maxwell out of the two Professors of Natural Philosophy who should be made redundant.

I know the meaning of the words above but don’t understand the grammar in bold, is it anastrophe?

  • You can see this question about "It was he/him who..." But it's not clear what exactly you're struggling with.
    – Stuart F
    Nov 1, 2023 at 12:46
  • @Henry - it isn't anastrophe. I am trying to help the OP with understanding the construction.
    – user81561
    Nov 1, 2023 at 12:57
  • Ok, thanks for comment guys. It’s not a grammar problem, I just don’t know the phrase. I thought it was kind of grammar.
    – Xiang Li
    Nov 1, 2023 at 14:54

2 Answers 2


idiom: the powers that be (a fixed phrase) = "those who are in charge" or so-called "upper management".

First remove the syntactically optional elements incredibly and out of the two Professors of Natural Philosophy. Then replace the idiomatic noun phrase subject the powers that be by just they:

when they decided that it was Maxwell who should be made redundant.

at which point it should be obvious that they decided it was Maxwell who should... is just a long-winded way of saying:

when they decided that Maxwell should be made redundant.

There is no anastrophe.

  • Comments to CW.
    – James K
    Nov 2, 2023 at 6:42

it was Maxwell...who should be made redundant

In linguistics this is called a cleft sentence. It is a way of conveying the information that Maxwell should be made redundant, but with a special emphasis on Maxwell (as opposed to other people).

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