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Leaving out words: ellipsis


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Leaving out words: ellipsis

In English people often omit words rather then repeating them. This is called ellipsis. Some kinds of ellipsis only occur in coordinate clauses and coordinated groups of words. These are explained in paragraphs 140. to 16

This section deals with ellipsis that occurs in subordinate clauses and separate sentences as well as in coordinate clauses. The second clause or sentence could be said or written by the same person, or it could be part of a reply or comment by someone else. The use of ellipsis in conversation is explained in paragraphs 63 to 6

50 If you have just described an action or state and you want to introduce a new subject only, you do not need to repeat the rest of the sentence. Instead, you can use just an auxiliary.

There were nineteen- and twenty-year-olds on the paper who were earning than I was.

They can distinguish finer detail than we can.

51 If you only want to change the verb tense or modality, you use a new auxiliary, with a subject referring to the same person or thing.

They would stop it if they could.

How does the Department of the Environment ensure, as it says it must, that the quality of the operation remains high?

Very few of us have that tremendous enthusiasm, although we know we ought to.

I never did go to Stratford, although I probably should have.

a topic which should have attracted far more attention from philosophers than it has.

52 If you choose no other auxiliary verb, you must usually use 'do', 'does', or 'did'.

Do farmers still warrant a ministry all to themselves? I think they do.

I think we want it more than they do.

'be' as a main verb 53 However, the link verb 'be' is repeated, in an appropriate form. For example, 'I was scared and the children were too'.

I think you're right.'—'I'm sure I am.'

If the second verb group contains a modal, you usually put 'be' after the modal.

'Bit of an unfair question to ask me, because I'm biased.'—'Thought you might be.'

'He thought that it was hereditary in his case.'—'Well, it might be.'

However, this is not necessary if the first verb group also contains a modal.

I'll be back as soon as I can.

'Be' is sometimes used after a modal in the second clause to contrast with another link verb such as 'seem', 'look', or 'sound'.

'It looks like tea to me.'—'Yes, it could be.'

'have' as a main verb 54 If the first verb is the main verb 'have', a form of 'have' is sometimes used instead of a form of 'do'.

She probably has a temperature—she certainly looks as if she has.

ellipsis with 'not' 55 You can make the second verb group negative by adding 'not' to the auxiliary. These combinations are contracted in informal speech and writing to 'don't', 'hasn't', 'isn't', 'mustn't', and so on (see paragraph 55 for a list of these contractions). You use the same forms for a negative response to a question.

Some managed to vote but most of them didn't.

'You're staying here!'—'But Gertrude, I can't, I mustn't!'

'And did it work?'—'No, I'm afraid it didn't.'

Widows receive state benefit: widowers do not.

He could have listened to the radio. He did not.

USAGE NOTE 56 With passives, 'be' is often, but not always, kept after a modal.

He argued that if tissues could be marketed, then anything could be.

However, with perfect passives, you can just use the auxiliary 'have' or 'has'. For example, you could say, 'Have you been interviewed yet? I have'.

Note that when a modal with 'have' is used for a passive or continuous verb group, 'been' cannot be omitted.

I'm sure it was repeated in the media. It must have been.

Priller noticed that they were not flying in tight formation as they should have been.

57 If the second verb group contains the auxiliary 'have' in any form, you can add 'done' to the group. For example, instead of saying 'He says he didn't see it but he must have', you can say 'He says he didn't see it but he must have done'.

When these questions are satisfactorily answered I might perhaps view their infantile behaviour more charitably than I have done to date.

It would have been nice to have won, and I might have done if my concentration hadn't lapsed.

Similarly, you can use 'do' after modals.

It makes a click like the lid of a tin may do.

Note that when the verb used in the first mention of an action or state is the main verb 'have', instead of using 'do' after a modal in the second mention, you often use 'have' instead.

'Do you think that academics have an appreciation of the administrative difficulties of running a University?'—'No, and I don't think they should have.'

58 Usually ellipsis occurs in a clause which comes after a clause in which the action or state has been mentioned with a main verb. Occasionally, however, for a deliberate effect, the clause containing the ellipsis comes before the clause explicitly mentioning the action or state.

If, as they should be, directors are themselves scholars, they wilt appreciate the language that scholars use.

59 If you want to be emphatic, you repeat the main verb, instead of using ellipsis.

It was the largest swarm of locusts that had ever been seen or that ever would be seen.

60 Note that if you want to contrast two different things affected by an action, or two different factors or circumstances, you can put a new object or adjunct in the second clause, with an auxiliary or form of 'be'.

Cook nettles exactly as you would spinach.

You don't get as much bickering on a farm as you do in most jobs.

People are not nearly so keen on the exhibiting side of things in Suffolk as they are in Yorkshire.

No one liked being young then as they do now.

However, the main verb is sometimes repeated.

Can't you at least treat me the way you treat regular clients?

61 You can omit a verb after the semi-modals 'dare' and 'need', but only when they are used in the negative.

'I don't mind telling you what I know.'—'You needn't. I'm not asking you for it.'

'You must tell her the truth.'—'But, Neill, I daren't.'

Similarly, the verb is only omitted after the modal expressions 'had rather' and 'would rather' when they are used in the negative. However, the verb is sometimes omitted after 'had better' even when it is used affirmatively.

'Will she be happy there?'—'She'd better.'

It's just that I'd rather not.

62 Ellipsis also occurs with 'to'-infinitive clauses. Instead of using a full 'to'-infinitive clause after a verb, you can just use 'to', if the action or state has already been mentioned.

Don't tell she if you don't want to.

At last he agreed to do what I asked him to.

You can also do this in conversation.

'Do you ever visit a doctor?' I asked her.—'No. We can't afford to.'

Note that there are some verbs, such as 'try' and 'ask', which are also often used on their own, without 'to'.

They couldn't help each other, and it was ridiculous to try.

Some water boards will replace washers free of charge, if you ask.

Ellipsis in conversation

63 Ellipsis often occurs in conversation in replies and questions. When ellipsis occurs like this, it can involve ellipsis of the main verb in the ways that have been explained above (see paragraphs 49 to 62). This is common with questions which show that you find what someone has said interesting or surprising, or that you do not agree with them. These questions always have a pronoun as their subject.

'He gets free meals.'—'Does he?'

'They're starting up a new arts centre there.'—'Are they?'

'I've checked everyone.'—'Have you now?'

ellipsis in questions 64 You can often use ellipsis in questions when the context makes it clear what is meant. The question can consist of just a 'wh'-word.

'There's someone coming.'—'Who?'—'I don't know. It's too dark and there's snow falling.'

'But I'm afraid there's more.'—'What?'

'Can I speak to you?' I asked, undaunted.—'Why?'—'It's important.'

'It's opening on the 31st of this month.'—'Where?'—'At the Railway Hotel.'

Note that you can also use 'why not'.

'Maria! We won't discuss that here.'—'Why not?'

Note also that you can use a 'wh'-word after a reporting verb, especially 'why'.

I asked why.

They enquired how.

65 Other questions can also consist of only a very few words when the context makes it clear what is meant. Short questions of this kind are often used to express surprise or to offer something to someone.

'Could you please come to Ira's right away and help me out?'—'Now? Tonight?'—'It's incredibly important.'

'Does she drink? Heavily, I mean.'—'Drink? No, she never touches the stuff.'

'He's going to die, you see.'—'Die?'

'Cup of coffee?' Lionel asked, kindly.

He drank the water and handed me the glass. 'More?' 'No, that's just fine, thank you.'

ellipsis in replies 66 When you reply to 'wh'-questions, you can often use one word or a group of words rather than a full sentence. You do this to avoid repeating words used in the question. For example, if someone asks 'What is your favourite colour?', the normal reply is a single word, for example 'Blue', rather than a sentence such as 'My favourite colour is blue'.

'What's your name?'—'Pete.'

'How do you feel?'—'Strange.'

'Where do you come from?'—'Cardiff.'

'Where are we going?'—'Up the coast.'

'How long have you been out of this country?'—'About three months.'

'How much money is there in that case?'—'Six hundred pounds.'

'Why should they want me to know?'—'To scare you, perhaps. Who can tell?'

'Wh'-questions are explained in paragraphs 17 to 30.

67 You can often use a sentence adjunct or an adverb of degree rather than a sentence in answer to a 'yes/no'-question.

'Do you think you could keep your mouth shut if I was to tell you something?'—'Definitely.'

'Do you think they're very important?'—'Maybe.'

'Do you enjoy life at the university?'—'Oh yes, very much.'

'Are you interested?'—'Very.'

'Are you ready, Matthew?'—'Not quite.'

'Is she sick?'—'Not exactly.'

'Yes/no'-questions are explained in paragraphs 12 to 1 Sentence adjuncts are listed in Chapter 10 (10.57 to 10.72). Adverbs of degree are listed in Chapter 2 (2.145 to 2.173) and Chapter 6 (45 to 52).

68 You often use ellipsis when you want to show that you agree with something that has just been said, or to say that ft also applies to someone or something else. One way of doing this is by using 'too' after an auxiliary or form of 'be'.

'I like baked beans.'—'Yes, I do too.'

'I've already talked to Santos.'—'I did too.'

The other way of doing this is to use 'so' followed by the auxiliary or form of 'be', followed by the subject.

'I find that amazing.'—'So do I.'

Note that you can also use ellipsis like this within a sentence to indicate that someone or something is the same.

He does half the cooking and so do I.

69 You can also use ellipsis when you want to show that you agree with something negative that has just been said, or to say that it also applies to someone or something else. One way of doing this is by using an auxiliary or form of 'be' followed by 'not' and 'either'.

'I don't know.'—'I don't either.'

'I can't see how she thinks it's to be done.'—'I can't either.'

The other way is to use 'nor' or 'neither' followed by an auxiliary or form of 'be', followed by the subject.

'I don't like him.'—'Nor do I.'

'The demands will not disappear.'—'Nor should they.'

'I'm not joking, Philip.'—'Neither am I.'

Note that you can also use ellipsis in these ways within a sentence.

I don't know what you're talking about, Miss Haynes, and I'm pretty sure you don't either.

I will never know all that was in his head at the time, nor will anyone else.

I can't do anything about this end neither can you.

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