Excerpted from Araby by James Joyce:

What innumerable follies laid waste my waking and sleeping thoughts after the evening!

I can't understand the sentence structure above, What at the beginning indicates it's exclamatory, but I don't see the normal structure of exclamatory sentence. Lay is supposed to have some nouns after it, so I assume waste is a noun there, but then how can my waking attached directly after a noun like that?

  • 2
    Assuming you can parse exclamatory What an interesting question this is!, the only other aspect of the text that might be troublesome is the poetic/dated/literary phrasal noun to lay waste (to something), which means to cause extensive destruction or ruin utterly.. Note that (syntactically optional) waking and sleeping applies adjectivally to thoughts, as does the final (also syntactically optional) adverbial phrase after the evening. Feb 17, 2016 at 15:00

2 Answers 2


"What X" is indeed exclamatory - slightly outdated in this usage I'd say, but not too uncommon in classic literature.

"To lay waste to something" is a compound expression, roughly meaning "to destroy" ("Godzilla laid waste to the entire city", for example). I'm not sure why it's used without 'to' after 'waste' here, but usually that's included in common usage.

And "waking" shouldn't be taken on its own in this sentence; it acts as a descriptor for "thoughts" -- "waking and sleeping thoughts" implying "thoughts throughout the entire day and night".


I would consider lay waste to be a phrasal verb. Someone may argue the technicality of that, but for practical purposes it's easiest if you consider both of those words as the verb like other phrasal verbs.

(I would say it's more usual to say lay waste to, e.g. "The army efficiently laid waste to the enemy's arsenal." but it's not strictly needed.)

Thoughts is the object of lay waste.

My waking and sleeping are modifiers (adjectives) to thoughts. Adjectives usually go in front of nouns in English, so this is normal.

I threw darts at Suzy's picture.

I threw the green ball at Suzy.

I threw my old almost completely torn apart ball at Suzy.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .