Ellipsis

Ellipsis is the omission of a word or words that are obvious or easily understood from the context. In this lesson, we will learn about ellipses.

"Ellipsis" in the English Grammar

What Do We Mean By Ellipsis?

When we leave out one or some words that we would not omit in a normal grammatical sentence, ellipsis happens. The items left out are shown in brackets [ ].

If he said [that] he'd come, he'll come.

A : [Have you] Seen my gloves anywhere?

B : [They're] in the kitchen.

She sang and [she] played the violin at the same time.

A : [Are] You coming?

B : Yes. [I'm] coming now. [I'm] Sorry to keep you waiting.

Note that when we use ellipsis properly, no one considers that the sentences are incomplete or grammatically incorrect. Ellipsis is normal and commonly used, particularly in spoken English.

Tip!

'Ellipsis' is also the name of a punctuation mark ("...") used to show the words that are left out in a direct quote.

Ellipsis: Types

We have two main types of ellipsis in the English grammar:

  • Textual ellipsis
  • Situational ellipsis

Textual Ellipsis

Textual ellipsis is when we can omit some parts of the text, because we can easily understand it from the context (surrounding text). One of the most common cases of textual ellipsis is the omission of 'that' in a that-clause.

I knew [that] something was terribly wrong.

I'm glad [that] you came.

We couldn't believe [that] he was only 12.

Sometimes with coordinated clauses joined together by 'and,' 'but,' and 'or,' we do not repeat words, but we understand the left out words. For example:

I went to a restaurant and [I] ordered a delicious meal.

We can deliver the item but [we] can't do it today.

The complement of a verb can also be left out when it is obvious what the complement is.

A : Why don't you ask him to move out?

B : I want to [ask him to move out], but he doesn't have a place to live.

A : Have another drink.

B : I'd better not [have another drink]. I have to wake up early the next day.

Situational Ellipsis

Omitting Subject Pronouns

Situational ellipsis generally means we omit the subject pronoun 'I,' especially at the beginning of a clause, because it is obvious from the immediate situation. This is quite informal.

[I] Wonder how Karen is getting on these days.

Goodbye! [I] Hope you have a great time!

In informal conversations, we can also leave out third-person pronouns at the beginning of a clause when it is obvious who or what we are talking about.

I saw Rachel in town. [She] Said she moved in yesterday.

Omitting Subjects and Auxiliary Verbs

We can omit both the subject pronoun (most likely 'I' and 'you') and the auxiliary verb at the beginning of a clause when the meaning is obvious. This is very common in informal English, especially with questions.

[Are you] Done with your food?

[Do you] Want some orange juice?

Omitting Auxiliary Verbs

We can also leave out the auxiliary verbs when the subject pronoun is 'you,' especially in questions.

[Are] You OK over there?

[Have] You started your homework yet?

If the subject of the question is third person noun subjects, we can also omit the auxiliary verb.

[Is] Jason coming to the party tonight?

[Has] Mary gone to the doctor?

Warning

Do not do this when the subject is the first person pronoun 'I.'

Am I making a huge mistake? (Do Not Say: I making a huge mistake?)

Question Tags

When we use a question tag in informal conversations, we can leave out the subject pronoun, or the subject pronoun, and the auxiliary verb.

[He] Broke up with his girl, did he?

[They] Closed down their store, didn't they?

Omitting Articles

an instance of ellipsis in a conversation

In informal situations, when articles (a/an, the) are obvious from the surrounding texts, and when we use them at the beginning of a sentence, we can omit them.

[The] Teacher says I'm not applying myself.

What are you looking for? [A] Mug. I'm making coffee.

Ellipsis in Fixed Expressions

In informal situations, we can leave out the first word of some fixed expressions or idioms, because it is easily understood from the context.

I'd love to. [The] Problem is, I'm so busy this weekend.

I can't lift it. It's [as] big as a bull.

Types of Ellipsis: Advanced Level

Now that you are familiar with the basic types of ellipsis, let's dig a little deeper and be familiarized with the more advanced types of ellipsis.

Gapping

Gapping is a type of ellipsis that happens in the middle of the sentence (not at the beginning of a clause).

Jim likes to drink beer, and Sally [likes to drink] juice.

Some prefer dark chocolate, and others [prefer] white chocolate.

Mike said that they bought sunglasses, and Monika [said that they bought] smartphones.

Pseudo-gapping

When most but not all of a verb phrase is left out, pseudo-gapping is happening.

Lucas is washing the dishes Friday, and Payton is [washing the dishes] Saturday.

Stripping

Stripping happens when everything, except a single element, is omitted from a clause. The clause is often followed by words such as 'too,' 'also,' or 'as well.'

She told Mal to stop horsing around, and [she told] Eli [to stop horsing around] too.

This is an example of stripping, because 'she told...to stop horsing around' is omitted from the second clause, leaving only the element 'Eli.' 'too' is added to help clarify the meaning.

Sluicing

Sluicing occurs in wh-clauses (clauses beginning with the wh-words such as 'who,' 'what,' 'where,' etc.). In sluicing, everything except the wh-expression is omitted from the clause.

Someone is coming with Nancy to have dinner with us tonight, but I don't know who [is coming with Nancy to have dinner with us tonight].

Brian doesn't like carrots, but he doesn't know why [he doesn't like carrots].

Verb Phrase Ellipsis

A verb phrase ellipsis happens when a verb phrase is omitted completely.

Jack wants to go to the zoo, and Mia wants to [go to the zoo] as well.

Noun Phrase Ellipsis

A noun phrase ellipsis occurs in a sentence when part of a noun phrase (a word or group of words that function as a subject or object) is omitted.

Sam saw three seabirds in the horizon, and Jill saw four.

This is an example of a noun phrase ellipsis because 'seabirds' is omitted from the noun phrase 'four seabirds'. Note that when a noun phrase ellipsis is used, the word or words that are omitted from one clause appear in the other clause.

Review

Ellipsis means to omit one word or some words of the sentence because they are easily understood from the context.

There are different types of 'ellipsis' some are advanced and some are easy.

  • Omitting subject pronouns
  • Omitting subjects and auxiliary verbs
  • Omitting auxiliary verbs
  • Question tags
  • Omitting articles
  • Ellipsis in fixed expressions
  • Gapping
  • Pseudo-gapping
  • Stripping
  • Sluicing
  • Verb phrase ellipsis
  • Noun phrase ellipsis

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