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I'm currently reading Flowers in the Attic and found this sentence that has been bugging me for a while.

My eyes widened. Such a vehement outburst from one seldom upset took me completely by surprise. In all our lives he'd never spoken so fervently to me, and with such anger.

I get what it means, but it still sounds really odd and sort of confusing since the outburst comes from him, not from the upset as the phrase suggests. Is this a normal construction?

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    Upset here is an adjective (actually a 'deverbal' participle), not a noun: "one [who is] seldom upset" – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 3 '14 at 20:59
  • When you say the outburst comes from him. To which him are you referring? The outburst does not come from the speaker, it comes from the "he" 'who is seldom upset'. – Jim Dec 4 '14 at 4:41
  • The speaker is a girl, so I was clearly referring to the person she was talking to which happens to be him. – Nicholas J. Dec 6 '14 at 2:26
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In this case, the adverb/adjective pair "seldom upset" acts as an adjective to describe "one." The phrase has an implied "that is," as in "one (that is) seldom upset."

This is very formal phrasing, almost never used in conversation and rare even in print. When you do see the "one [adverb] [adjective]" construction, it is most common for the word "so" to be used as the adverb.

"It is rare to see such skill in one so young."
"I've never seen one so big!"

Adding to the confusion in your Flowers in the attic example is the fact that "one" can be a noun or an adjective, "seldom" can be an adverb or an adjective, and "upset" can be an adjective, noun, or verb. Out of context, "one seldom upset" could mean:

  • A single surprising outcome that is infrequent (adjective / adjective / noun)
  • An individual disturbed someone or something infrequently (noun / adverb / verb)
  • Something or someone that is rarely disturbed (noun / adverb / adjective)

The only way to understand its meaning is through context. In this case, the key is to recognize that "one" is the indirect object of the sentence, not "upset."

If I were to rewrite the sentence for clarity, I might substitute:

"Such a vehement outburst from one so rarely upset..."

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Upset describes the person in this case. It's not a separate noun.

I think what threw you is the "one". It's not used in the sense of "1 seldom upset" but rather in the sense of a short version of "someONE".

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