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“...and from yet another pocket inside his overcoat he pulled an owl -- a real, live, rather ruffled-looking owl - a long quill, and a roll of parchment. With his tongue between his teeth he scribbled a note that Harry could read upside down.” (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

Is ‘upside down’ a depictive adjunct for ‘a note’?

  • It means that he can read the note upside down and the normal way. – Thor Mar 26 '13 at 11:27
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    You’re going to have to define your “depictive adjunct” thingie there. – tchrist Mar 26 '13 at 11:32
  • A related question: Waterway flowed sombre – CowperKettle Jan 11 '15 at 8:13
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No, upside down does not modify a note. It modifies read.

Looking at the passage in context (typed up from my UK edition, which has some small differences):

‘Gallopin' Gorgons, that reminds me,’ said Hagrid, clapping a hand to his forehead with enough force to knock over a cart horse, and from yet another pocket inside his overcoat he pulled an owl - a real, live, rather ruffled-looking owl - a long quill and a roll of parchment. With his tongue between his teeth he scribbled a note which Harry could read upside-down:

Dear Mr Dumbledore,
 Given Harry his letter. Taking him to buy his things tomorrow.
Weather's horrible. Hope you're well.

Hagrid

From context, we can see Hagrid doesn't intend for Harry to read the note at all; the intended recipient is Dumbledore. From this, the most natural reading is that Harry is looking at it upside-down.

The other reading is grammatically possible but pragmatically questionable.

  • Thank you for your jotting down the British version. I'm thinking about getting it for better understanding. – Listenever Mar 27 '13 at 7:55
  • Aha! The "translators" to "American" messed up. The clause is supposed to be a non-restrictive clause, so strictly speaking there should have been a comma before the "which" (in this case you probably wouldn't pause when speaking, so I think Rowling's leaving out the comma is entirely understandable, especially since she generally writes in a fairly informal style). But the people preparing the American edition took it as a restrictive clause, and changed "which" to "that". It reads much better as a non-restrictive clause. – Peter Shor Mar 27 '13 at 17:34
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    @PeterShor But which may be used with either restrictive or non-restrictive clauses (the only restriction is on that, which cannot be used with a non-restrictive clause); so the clause in question may be either. In any case, I don't think it affects the question at hand. – StoneyB Apr 2 '13 at 21:49
  • @StoneyB: Yes, but the American editors changed it to "that", which can only be used for restrictive clauses. This is why the sentence with "that" sounds odd. If you view it as a restrictive clause, the most natural inference is that Hagrid intended Harry to read it upside down. – Peter Shor Apr 2 '13 at 22:00
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This is a tricky case.

Technically I suppose upside down modifies that, whose referent is a note; it certainly doesn't modify Harry, who I presume is normally oriented. The sentence certainly looks a lot like that in your earlier question, She drank the coffee hot.

Even more technically, however, upside down doesn't characterize the note, which is right side up with respect to Hagrid, but the relative orientations of the note and Harry. And it is of relevance neither to Harry nor to the note but to the verb read.

In this case I'm gonna revert to traditional grammar and vote for adverb phrase modifying the clause that Harry could read.

  • Isn't it an adverb phrase that modifies just the verb "read" and not the whole clause? – Bob Stein Mar 26 '13 at 16:56
  • @BobStein-VisiBone That's one way of graphing it, and it's how it would have been done when I was kid; but it seems to me to overlook the phrase's semantic connection to Harry and that. Like I said, it's tricky. – StoneyB Mar 26 '13 at 19:13
  • I think it would be perverse to parse it as he scribbled a note that Harry could read upside down. Your last sentence is credible, but it seems to me there's no need to associate upside down with anything other than read. – FumbleFingers Mar 26 '13 at 22:34
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    @StoneyB: It seems to me it functions exactly the same as, for example, "quickly". Which is to say upside down modifies read. It just so happens that semantically it might well come to the same thing if we assume it modifies scribbled. But actually I imagine that's not the sense intended here - I'm guessing the text is something that reads identically right-side-up and upside-down, like, say, the date 1961 (in certain typefaces! :) – FumbleFingers Mar 26 '13 at 23:21
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    @StoneyB: I didn't know Hagrid was the writer. Maybe he's too dumb to figure out a vertically-rotatable text. Whatever - I reckon it's the way Harry has to read it, regardless of whether he, the message, [or both?!], are "upside-down". – FumbleFingers Mar 27 '13 at 4:37

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