From Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince -

I had never learned to draw anything except boa constrictors, outside and inside.

Which part of speech are "outside" and "inside"? And which word does "outside and inside" modify?

  • 1
    Where is this from? It's not clear what it means: it could mean they draw boa constrictors outdoors and indoors, or that they draw the inside of a boa constrictor and the outside of a boa constrictor (which would be funnier). Depending on the meaning, it might be unambiguously an adverb, or people might argue whether it's a preposition or something else.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jan 5 at 10:18
  • @StuartF It's from the Little Prince.
    – user183211
    Commented Jan 5 at 10:25
  • 3
    In the original French it's 'open and closed'. As you know, the narrator as a child drew his idea of a boa that had swallowed an elephant whole; as the grownups didn't understand it, he then drew a 'cut-away' view showing the elephant inside. Commented Jan 5 at 10:36
  • @KateBunting: I'm not exactly 100% fluent in French, but it seems to me ouverts ou fermés ("open or closed") accurately and unambiguously describes the "cut-away" view, whereas if we didn't have the benefit of the actual picture (effectively, an "essential component" of this text), outside and inside would more naturally be interpreted as as seen from the outside and inside (as Jonah might have drawn "the inside" when he was in his whale). But "open or closed" doesn't seem very idiomatic for the context, so maybe something is unavoidably "lost in translation" here. Commented Jan 5 at 15:55
  • ...which leads me to wonder whether outside and inside could be classed as adjectival (describing the subject matter being drawn - the inside and the outside of the snake) OR adverbial (referencing how it was drawn, from what perspective, the artist himself being either inside or outside of his subject). Commented Jan 5 at 16:00

2 Answers 2


This is highly contextual. As we learned in the opening pages of the book, the author's first drawing was that of a boa constrictor having swallowed an elephant. Since this was always misinterpreted as being a picture of a hat, he re-drew it as a cross section. These two views are what he is referring to as outside and inside.

  • 1
    So, nouns? The boa's outside and the boa's inside? Commented Jan 5 at 14:49
  • Yes, nouns and not integrated into the grammar of the sentence. I've seen these described as "absolute nouns"
    – James K
    Commented Jan 5 at 17:26
  • je n'avais rien appris à dessiner, sauf les boas fermés et les boas ouverts. No, the term is not cross-section in French.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 5 at 18:35
  • Yes, the intended meaning is indeed regular and cross-section views. The latter would be plan de coupe (architecture) or vue en coupe in French but here it is expressed using a child's vocabulary.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Jan 6 at 13:46
  • vue en coupe, a cross-section view requires perspective and there is no perspective in the pictures, and that's what make them a picture drawn by a child. Children's drawings are two-dimensional which is the whole point. So, cross-section view is most definitely not the "intended" meaning. The intended meaning is to see the world through a child's eyes.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 7 at 16:46

First picture in the book

Second picture in the book

Le Petit Prince _ free and online

Those are the pictures in the book.

The French text says: je n'avais rien appris à dessiner, sauf les boas fermés et les boas ouverts.

My translation is: I had never learned to draw anything except the inside of boas and the outside of boas.

That, for me, is a better translation.

The one cited by the OP is: "I had never learned to draw anything except boa constrictors, outside and inside". That is not the best way to say this.
However, as translated in that version, outside and inside refer to "the inside and outside of boa constrictors".

I draw boas, outside and inside. can presumably parse to: I draw the outside and inside of boas. Because outside and inside parse to nouns rather than adjectives like the French.

Clearly, "outside and inside" is the child narrator's idea here. "Inside" is ok because the elephant is inside the boa in one drawing. And outside is okay because it is the outside of the boa we can see. So, the French, ouverts and fermés is better said as: outside of boas and inside of boas to mean with an elephant visible inside it and an elephant's outline where it, the elephant, is not visible.

Anyway, as given, boas, outside and inside should therefore be: the outside and the inside of boas. Or: The outsides or insides of boas. However, the French repetition should be kept because kids repeat things. And that's the charm of the sentence.

I propose: "I had never learned to draw anything except the outside of boa constrictors and the inside of boa constrictors."

the outside of something and the inside of something where outside and inside are nouns.

And to draw boas, outside and inside would mean where the boa was drawn, an adverb, which does not make much sense.

Another example: we fool around the house, outside and inside. Meaning? Outside the house and inside the house. Those are nouns.

These drawings have no perspective (three-way) which is what makes them charming. They are a flat view of the boa and elephant with none. Children draw typically in two dimensions.

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