Author Topic: The proper way to construct elliptical sentences  (Read 10274 times)

Joe Carillo

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The proper way to construct elliptical sentences
« on: January 25, 2012, 09:13:18 PM »
Question e-mailed by Fern S. (January 25, 2012):

Dear Mr. Carillo,
 
I wrote a draft memorandum to our personnel department. The last sentence of the memorandum read as follows:
 
“Also, please be informed that we are willing to consider regular employees, who are licensed Mechanical Engineers and are interested to transfer to our department.”
 
Our assistant manager edited the foregoing sentence by deleting the word “are” after “and.” The edited sentence reads as follows:
 
“Also, please be informed that we are willing to consider regular employees, who are licensed Mechanical Engineers and interested to transfer to our department.”
 
Was the correction correct?
 
Thank you.
 
Fern

My reply to Fern:

Yes, I think your assistant manager’s correction of that sentence in your draft memo is well-advised. By deleting the word “are” after “and” from your original sentence construction, your assistant manager has come up with this more streamlined and better-sounding elliptical sentence:

“Also, please be informed that we are willing to consider regular employees, who are licensed Mechanical Engineers and interested to transfer to our department.”

Recall that an elliptical construction is a sentence that omits from a clause one or more words that would otherwise be required by the remaining elements. This is done to streamline a sentence and make it more concise and easier to articulate. For instance, the sentence “The youngest staff in the office is as competent as the eldest” is an elliptical form of this fully spelled-out sentence: “The youngest staff in the office is as competent as the eldest staff in the office.” Note that the second mention of the words “staff in the office” has been dropped to streamline the sentence and make it more concise.

Let’s take a closer look at your original sentence construction:

“Also, please be informed that we are willing to consider regular employees, who are licensed Mechanical Engineers and are interested to transfer to our department.”

The above sentence construction of yours is actually also an elliptical or streamlined version of the following fully spelled-out sentence that has two relative clauses:

“Also, please be informed that we are willing to consider regular employees, who are licensed Mechanical Engineers and who are interested to transfer to our department.”

When you streamlined the above sentence, however, you only dropped the “who” of the second relative clause to come up with this elliptical version:

“Also, please be informed that we are willing to consider regular employees, who are licensed Mechanical Engineers and are interested to transfer to our department.” 

While there’s nothing grammatically wrong with the streamlined sentence above, I would say that your effort to make it elliptical wasn’t done completely because you only dropped the relative pronoun “who” and retained the second linking verb “are.” The norm when making such sentences elliptical is to drop both the relative pronoun “who” and the verb that follows it. By dropping the second linking verb “are” as well, your assistant manager did right in completing that “ellipticalization” process as follows:

“Also, please be informed that we are willing to consider regular employees, who are licensed Mechanical Engineers and interested to transfer to our department.”

Even so, I think the English of the above elliptical sentence as well as that of your original sentence construction isn’t grammatically airtight. It actually needs to drop the comma before the relative clause “who are licensed Mechanical Engineers and interested to transfer to our department.” This is because that relative clause is actually restrictive in nature and as such, that comma before it is grammatically unnecessary. Removing that comma would convert that relative clause into the correct restrictive form, as follows:

“Also, please be informed that we are willing to consider regular employees who are licensed Mechanical Engineers and interested to transfer to our department.”

You will recall that in English grammar, a restrictive relative clause is one that’s essential to the definiteness of the word it modifies, as in “The man who was caught speeding is a high government official.” In contrast, a nonrestrictive relative clause is one that’s not essential to the definiteness of the meaning of the word it modifies, “My eldest daughter, who has a master’s degree, has decided not to pursue a PhD for the time being.” One distinctive difference between them is that a restrictive relative clause can’t be dropped from the sentence because doing so seriously changes the meaning of that sentence, while a nonrestrictive relative clause is actually optional to that sentence and can be dropped at will. Another difference is that a restrictive relative clause shouldn't be set off by commas, while a nonrestrictive relative clause needs to be set off from the main clause by a comma or a pair of commas depending on its position in the sentence.

RELATED POSTINGS ON ELLIPTICAL SENTENCES:
“Deconstructing and understanding those puzzling elliptical sentences,” August 28, 2011
“Elliptical sentences often read and sound better than regular sentences,” June 18, 2010

RELATED POSTINGS ON RELATIVE CLAUSES:
“Guideposts for using ‘who,’ ‘that,’ and ‘which’ to link relative clauses,” April 2, 2011
“Why it’s tough choosing between ‘that’ and ‘which’ to link relative clauses,” April 9, 2011

« Last Edit: January 26, 2012, 07:19:35 AM by Joe Carillo »