I am trying to understand the syntactic structure of the second sentence of this excerpt from L'Étranger by Camus.

C’était le même éclatement rouge. Sur le sable, la mer haletait de toute la respiration rapide et étouffée de ses petites vagues.


Am I right to understand it this way?

  • de ses petites vagues modifies respiration.

  • de toute la respiration complements haletait (in much the same way des yeux complements quitter in quitter des yeux son adversaire as I learned in this other post).


I am not asking what I should imagine. I want to understand how the sentence works. For instance, I want to make sure that de ses petites vagues does not connect to haletait or étouffée somehow.

This German translation seems to understand the French original the same way as set out above.

Es war dieselbe rote Explosion. Auf dem Sand hechelte das Meer mit den schnellen, erstickten Atemzügen seiner kleinen Wellen.

This English translation decided to get rid of respiration.

There was the same dazzling red glare. The sea gasped for air with each shallow, stifled little wave that broke on the sand.

  • Apart from the non-strict parallel with quitter des yeux, you got it right on the nose.
    – GAM PUB
    Dec 27, 2015 at 18:08
  • The German translation is indeed much closer to the original French.
    – Relaxed
    Dec 28, 2015 at 9:33

1 Answer 1



  • la mer haletait

  • la mer haletait de quelle manière / comment ?

  • la mer haletait par l'effet de ses petites vagues

Quel effet ?

toute la respiration rapide et étouffée de ses petites vagues

=> de manière simplifiée: la respiration de ses vagues.

rapide et étouffée : complémentent respiration

petites vagues est l'acteur de respiration: on pourrait dire: ses petites vagues respirent.

Quitter des yeux est un peu différent: on ne peut pas enlever des yeux sans modifier le sens de quitter.

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