A Guide to Elliptical Constructions
An elliptical construction is one in which a word or phrase implied by context is omitted from a sentence, usually because it is a repetition of a preceding word or phrase. The three principal types of elliptical construction, with the omitted text enclosed in brackets, follow:
Noun ellipsis: “I went swimming, and John went [swimming], too.”
Verb ellipsis: “She favors romantic comedies, and Jane [favors] musicals.”
Verb-phrase ellipsis: “He went for a walk, but they didn’t [go for a walk].”
In a sentence in which repeated elements recur in more than one clause, a comma marks the elision of these words or phrases, and the clauses are separated by semicolons: “Igneous rock is formed from the cooling and solidification of magma of lava; sedimentary, from sedimentation of surface and underwater material; and metamorphic, from heat or pressure action on igneous, sedimentary, or another metamorphic type of rock.”
In simpler sentences, you may omit the comma if you also replace a semicolon with a conjunction: “Molten rock is called magma in its subterranean form and lava during and after eruption.”
But if you retain the semicolon, retain the marker comma as well: “Molten rock is called magma in its subterranean form; lava, during and after eruption.”
Elliptical construction is particularly useful when listing statistics: “In 2010, he hit fifty-five home runs; in 2009, thirty-seven; and in 2008, forty-six,” or “In the school election, Tom received 345 votes and Tina 322.”
Proper ellipsis in sentences spoken by different people varies: When John says, “Mary graduated,” Jane can simply reply, “She did?” rather than echoing, “She did graduate?” or “Did she graduate?” But if John says, “Mary graduated with honors,” Jane can’t respond, “Jim with highest honors.”
When a verb form is omitted in one of two instances, its repetition, not its original appearance, should be omitted: “My sister has never gone mountain climbing, and never will,” not “My sister has never and will never go mountain climbing.” (“My sister has never . . . go” is ungrammatical.)
When using an elliptical construction that in its full form would employ the comparative terms as and than, do not omit the first instance of the terms before the conjunction: “Golden eagles are as large as and just as majestic as bald eagles,” not “Golden eagles are as large and just as majestic as bald eagles.” Similarly, do not omit than: “Coyotes are smaller than but just as impressive as wolves,” not “Coyotes are smaller but just as impressive as wolves.”
To test for grammatical soundness, temporarily omit the phrase including the conjunction and the comparative up to the object: “Golden eagles are as large . . . bald eagles” and “Coyotes are smaller . . . wolves” are ungrammatical.
Also, be sure to omit only the words not essential for clarity: “The bus doesn’t go to or return from the city,” not “The bus doesn’t go or return from the city.”
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