Ellipsis is a device we use from time to time in our utterances or writings. This post Ellipsis in English (Definition, Types, Uses and Examples) focuses on this commonly used devices. Shakespeare once wrote, ‘When sorrows come, they come…in battalions’. The full realisation of that quotation is this: ‘When sorrows come, they come not single spies, /But in battalions’.
What does ellipsis mean or how do we define it? Ellipsis is one of the processes a sentence passes through to give us a minor sentence. It refers to the process of omitting or deleting an item or items from a clause or a sentence. Ellipsis has also been described as the economist of language which enables us to leave out the unnecessary repetition of words.
Some people refer to ellipsis as word omission. Such omissions (of one or more words that are obviously understood but that must be supplied to make a construction grammatically complete) or deletions are normally implied by the context of situation.
We represent ellipsis using three dots when we omit a text in the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence or quotation. The three dots are standard and universal. Ellipsis is one of the punctuation marks.
Ellipsis in English (Definition, Types, Uses and Examples)
Having considered the meaning of ellipsis, let us see some examples, types and uses of ellipsis…
Ellipsis Examples in Sentences
- The man went out and washed his clothes. (“the man” has been deleted to avoid tautology)
- Sorry for the inconveniences. (The subject “I am” has been deleted and it is used for the sake of convenience)
- You can fool all the people some of the time…but you cannot fool all the people all of the time. (‘You can fool some of the people all of the time’ has been deleted)
- Deliver us from evil…forever and ever, Amen. (‘For thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory’ is omitted).
- Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are…like a diamond in the sky. (‘up above the world so high’ has been omitted)
Types of Ellipsis
There are quite some types of ellipsis, but let us consider three types; these are Linguistic Context Ellipsis, Social Context Ellipsis and Situational Ellipsis. Let us see these three types…
Linguistic Context Ellipsis
This depends very much on the linguistic context; that is, the deletions are shown by what went before which you are not interested in repeating. This usually occurs in formal English and the omitted words in the elliptical sentence are usually the ones that would appear twice in the full sentence. Let us see some examples:
- The Vice Chancellor has promised not to expel the errant students, so we are sure he won’t. (‘expel the errant students’ is deleted)
- The Mobile Communication Network has threatened to block all unregistered mobile lines and from all indications, they will. (‘block all unregistered mobile lines’ has been deleted)
- We have come this far to recover the personal effects of Mr. Johnson and we must make sure we do. (‘recover the personal effects of Mr. Johnson’ is deleted)
- He plans to run for the second term in office and as things are, he will. (‘run for the second term in office’ is deleted)
- Parents should not allow their children to succumb to peer pressure; good parents will ensure they never allow their children to. (‘succumb to peer pressure’ is deleted)
- I believe that the president can, and will, win the next election. (Elliptical sentence)
- I believe that this party can win the next election and will win the next election. (Full sentence with duplication)
- He was, and remains, the greatest singer of all times. (Elliptical sentence)
- He was the greatest singer of all times, and remains the greatest singer of all times. (Full sentence with duplication)
This is the ellipsis that depends on the social context for instance the speaker’s convenience. Let us take some examples that are based on familiarity:
- Angry with me? (The speaker deletes “Are you” – Are you angry with me?)
- Coming tonight? (The speaker deletes “Are you” – Are you coming tonight?)
- Got something to eat? (The speaker deletes “Have you” – Have you got something to eat?)
- Got some cash to spare? (The speaker deletes “Have you” – Have you got some cash to spare?)
- Have anything doing tonight? (The speaker deletes “Do you” – Do you have anything doing tonight?)
- Care for some? (The speaker deletes “Do you” – Do you care for some?)
- Mind tagging along? (The speaker deletes “Would you/Do you” – Would you mind tagging along?)
Let us consider instances where we make use of Situational Ellipsis.
When we do not need to mention someone or something because it is obvious from the immediate situation, we use situational ellipsis. Situational ellipsis often means we do not need to use the subject pronoun I, especially at the beginning of a clause. This is quite informal:
- (I) Wonder where Daisy is these days?
- Great! [I] Hope you had a trip?
- A. I saw John in town. (He) Said he’s relocating to the States next year.
- B. Really?
- A. Yes, sure. (He) Met an American lady and got engaged to her after only a couple of weeks, apparently.
- There’s something wrong with the car. (It) Started making a funny noise on the way home.
Subjects and Auxiliary Verbs
In informal conversation, we can leave out both a subject pronoun such as I or you and an accompanying auxiliary verb at the beginning of a clause when the meaning is obvious. This is most common in questions. Consider these examples:
- (Have you) Finished with the novel?
- (I’ve) Lost my slippers again. Have you seen them?
- A. (Do you) Want some biscuits?
- B. Is there any?
- A. Yeah. (I’ve) Just bought some.
In questions in informal conversation, with the second person pronoun you, we can leave out the auxiliary verb only:
- (Have) You finished your assignment yet?
- (Are) You going to the stadium on Saturday?
We can also do the same in informal conversation in questions with third person noun subjects:
- (Is) Janet coming tonight?
- (Has) Clara bought a new bag yet? She said she was going to.
We do not normally do this with the first person pronoun I:
- Am I making too much noise?
- Not: I making too much noise?
- (He) Gave up smoking, did he? I thought he would.
- (You) Wrote to the principal, did you? Good idea.
- A. He was asked to vacate the house.
- B. Yes. (He) Didn’t like it, did he?
- A. No. He wasn’t at all happy.
- A. Nicky and Catherine surely had a long break from work.
- B. Yeah. (They) Went away for a month, didn’t they?
In informal conversation, we can sometimes omit articles (a/an, the) when they are obvious from the context and when we use them at the beginning of a sentence:
- (The) Cat wants to go out. Can you open the door for it?
- A. What are you looking for?
- B. (A) Pencil. Can you see one anywhere?
- (The) Postman has just been here. There’s a parcel for you.
We often leave out the first word of a fixed expression in informal conversation because we know the listener will understand the expression:
- I’d love to go with you. (The) Trouble is, I’ve got to work on Saturday this week.
- I can’t read that. I’m (as) blind as a bat without my glasses.
Uses of Ellipsis
We can use ellipsis in direct speech to show a speaker’s hesitation or that he has left some things unspoken. For instance: “I don’t know… I’ll try… I can’t promise anything.” We can also use ellipsis to realise imperative sentences and minor sentences. See Types of Sentences in English. You can also read on Minor Sentences. Let us check some examples:
- Trump off to London. (President Trump is off to London)
- No plans to sell the building. (There are no plans to sell the building)
- United Bank for Africa… Africa’s Global Bank. (United Bank for Africa towers high as Africa’s Global Bank)
- Skye Bank…Expanding your world. (At Skye Bank, it is all about expanding your world)
- Unity Bank…succeeding together. (Succeeding together with you is our goal in Unity Bank.
- Access Bank…A Passion for excellence. (Access Bank exemplifies A Passion for excellence)
- Give me some food. (Jane, give me some food)
- Answer two questions. (The examiner requires you to answer two questions)
- Come back soon please. (Honey, come back soon please)
- Step forward please. (Mr. Tom, step forward please)
- Get this over with. (Sir, get this over with)
We also use ellipsis in news writing, formal and informal writings.
Things to Note
- An ellipsis makes up for a missing piece of text, or allows for a pause in writing.
- According to various style guides, an ellipsis is three periods, with a space in between each [ . . . ]. In general, there is also a space before and after the ellipsis. Some style manuals prefer three dots with no spaces in between [ … ], and others still prefer the auto-formatted version of the ellipsis, with less than a full space in between each dot […]. Although this is less common now.
- Until very recently, the Modern Language Association (MLA) required brackets before and after ellipses (as seen above); however, the use of such brackets has declined in recent years. Although brackets are still technically correct, they are largely deemed unnecessary. See How to Use Ellipsis…
Ellipsis and Substitution
Ellipsis and Substitution are quite similar in some ways as they both afford interlocutors the opportunity of reducing what they are saying. While ellipsis is simply leaving something out that is usually obvious, substitution has to do with using words such as do and so and not instead of a clause. Let us take some examples:
- A. He could come with us to Lagos.
- B. Yes, he could (come with us to Lagos).
- A. Will you have another bottle of coke?
- B. I’d better not (have another bottle of coke). I’m supposed to be on a diet.
- The Manager threatened to sack the Secretary, and he finally did so six months later. (did so = sacked the Secretary)
- A. Is Maggie coming too?
- B. I hope not. There’s only enough food for three. (not – Maggie isn’t coming)
A lot of people use ellipsis without necessarily knowing what it really stands for. Many in an attempt to represent ellipsis use more than three dots. The standard representation of ellipsis is three dots as we have noted above. Do not forget that. Ellipsis also has to do with word omission and it is one of the punctuation marks in English. Take time to check out other educative posts on this platform and remember to share the posts on Akademia with your friends. You would definitely have made someone’s day!
By the way, do you know the difference between Aural and Oral? You might want to check it out.
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