A few days ago, reader Kristian Paul Abran asked me on my Facebook page: âIs there any difference between an elliptical sentence and an elliptical clause, or are they just the same?â
I replied to Kristian that although related, an elliptical sentence and an elliptical clause are not the same. They are distinct grammatical constructions from one another.
An elliptical sentence is a form of a sentence that knocks off some of its words or phrases for brevityâs sake, taking for granted that the reader or listenerâaware of the contextâwould just logically fill in the gaps with the missing grammatical elements. For instance, before being ellipted, the sentence may run this way: âYou may go when youâre done with your school assignments.â That sentence can drop the words âyou mayâ and âwith your school assignmentsâ to come up with this ellipted statement: âGo when youâre done.â
On the other hand, an elliptical clause is either an independent or subordinate clause in which some words have been left out or ellipted, with the writer or speaker assuming that those missing words would just be supplied by the reader or listener based on the pattern or logic of the statement. For instance, in a conversation, the runaround-sounding sentence âMany did favor the maverick candidate, but others didnât favor the maverick candidateâ would normally be ellipted to âMany did favor the maverick candidate, but others didnât [âŠ].â For brevityâs sake, the repetitive phrase âfavor the maverick candidateâ is routinely knocked off in the second clause.
Effective writers use ellipsis to be economical with words, methodically dropping off redundancies and pruning out needlessly repetitive phrasing that might just turn off readers. In fact, when thereâs no danger of breaking the flow of the exposition and of being misunderstood, ellipses also deliberately drop certain predictable words and phrases from sentences and just depend on the reader to mentally fill them in based on context. Itâs a very neat streamlining device if handled well.
Here are some of the common elliptical forms that you can learn using in your written and spoken English:
(1) Routine omission of the conjunction âthatâ in modifying clauses. Unellipted: âThey somehow knew that they would be routed by the maverick candidate.â Ellipted: âThey somehow knew [âŠ] they would be routed by the maverick candidate.â
(2) Elliptical noun phrases. Unellipted: âAmelia ordered the regular-size orange drink but the salesclerk gave her the large-size orange drink.â Ellipted by dropping âorange drinkâ in the second clause: âAmelia ordered the regular-size orange drink but the salesclerk gave her the large-size [âŠ].â
(3) Ellipsis of the verb and its objects or complements. Unellipted: âThe ailing candidate declared that she would campaign to very end if she could campaign to to the very end.â Ellipted by dropping âcampaign to the very endâ in the second clause: âThe ailing candidate declared [âŠ] she would campaign to very end if she could [âŠ].â
(4) Medial (middle) ellipsis. Unellipted: âEdwin will take care of the urban sector voters and Carina will take care of the rural sector voters.â Ellipted by dropping âwill take care ofâ in the second clause: âEdwin will take care of urban sector voters and Carina, [âŠ] the rural sector voters.â
(5) Ellipsis of clause. Unellipted: âThey can start voting now if they want to start voting now.â Ellipted by dropping âstart voting nowâ in the second clause.: âThey can start voting now if they want to [âŠ].â
There are so many more elliptical forms to be learned in the English language. They can make writing and speech more cohesive, compact, and forceful. Actually an advanced form of exposition, they can be mastered by getting to know the various patterns of the ellipsisâthe grammatical hole in an elliptical sentenceâand then applying them logically, unobstrusively, and gracefully.
This essay first appeared in the weekly column âEnglish Plain and Simpleâ by Jose A. Carillo in The Manila Times in its May 7, 2016 issue, Â© 2016 by Manila Times Publishing. All rights reserved.