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ELLIPSIS. Ellipsis in sentence-structure is a natural syntactic process in linguistic development presented as normal practices in many




Ellipsis in sentence-structure is a natural syntactic process in linguistic development presented as normal practices in many, if not all, languages.

Quite a number of elliptical patterns are shortcuts in syntactic usage fixed as a form of linguistic economy by right of long usage.

In terms of traditional grammar, elliptical sentences are generally identified as sentences with the subject or predicate missing. Some grammarians hold another point of view recognising ellipsis also in sentences where the secondary parts of the sentence are felt as missing. Such was A. M. Peshkovsky' s treatment of elliptical sentences in Russian1.

Similar statements will be found in L. S. Barkhudarov's and D. A. Shtellіng's grammar book (1973).

What is felt as implicit in elliptical sentences may be supplied from:

a) the immediate context, e. g.: "How was the play?" she inquired.

"Very good," returned Hurstwood. (Dreiser) "Cold., isn't it?" said the early guest. "Rather". (Dreiser)

b) relevance to a complete grammatical construction of a given pattern, e. g.:

"Doing well, I suppose?"

"Excellent."

"Glad to hear it." (Dreiser)

Ellipsis of a lexeme or constructions (or even parts of constructions) must surely be recognised in the analysis of sentences.

In terms of structure, distinction will be made between the following types of elliptical sentences:

a) omission of the subject:

Looks to me for all the world like an alf-tame leopard. (Galsworthy)

b) omission of the predicate in patterns with there is, there are, e. g.:

1 A. M. Пешковский. Русский синтаксис в научном освещении. М., 1956. See also: Л. С. Бархударов. Структура простого предложения современного английского языка. М., 1966.


He shook a thick finger at the room: "Too many women nowadays, and

they don't know what they want. (Galsworthy)

Soames stole a glance. No movement in his wife's face. (Galsworthy) "Nothing like dissecting to give one an appetite", said Mr. Bob Saweyer.

(Dickens)

c) omission of auxiliary, copulative and other function verbs, e. g.:

You going to take Irene? ('Galsworthy)

d) omission of the subject and auxiliary verb, e. g.: Mean to tell me you didn't know?

Remember that boy? Staying with my father? Going to marry him? "Hallo, Michael! I'm rather late. Been to the Club and walked home". (Galsworthy)

e) omission of the subject and the copula-verb, e. g.: I don't write. Not such a fool. (Galsworthy)

I don't believe I should have done it at your age too much of a Forsyte, I'm afraid. (Galsworthy)

"How's your wife?" "Thanks", said Soames coldly, "well enough". (Galsworthy)

Some of the above given types of elliptical sentences have become regular idiomatic expressions, e. g.: colloquial See? for Do you see?

That do? (= will that do?)

See you again tomorrow (= I shall see you again tomorrow).

"I tried it, but it nearly made me leave."

"Not me. I'm nearly ten, see?" He drew a half-pound bar of chocolate from his back pocket: "Take a bit. And break me a piece off as well". (Sillitoe)

But certain restrictions are reasonably to be placed on the recognition of ellipsis, in general, since there is often the danger that we may base some part of our analysis on "understood" items in a context where there is little reason for taking ellipsis into account.

Imperative sentences, for instance, are generally expressed with no subject; and even when a subject is expressed in such sentences, the subject may be somebody or anybody rather than you, e. g.:

Somebody fetch a piece of chalk.

To treat commands, therefore, as sentences from which the subject you has been omitted would be erroneous. Commands and requests seem to be more reasonably described by stating that they are subjectless sentences in which one of a very restricted number of possible subjects may on occasion be inserted.

It would be probably erroneous to say that when a speaker indulges in what grammatically may be referred to as ellipsis, he has always a clear idea of what he omits or neglects to express. It is more likely that the speaker very often has no definite idea of what he is omitting — indeed, that he would rather not be forced to render the idea or thought too carefully and exactly.

If, then, in such cases ellipsis should be assumed, it is because in each instance the complete grammatical construction would require more; it cannot be assumed that the speaker would necessarily fill out his construction, even in his own mind.


The first to be mentioned here are sentences presented by predicatives without a verb, e. g.: Splendid! Charming! Beautiful!

It is often said that in all these sentences the link-verb is (are, was, were) is understood, but this point of view gives no real explanation of the phenomenon. We must, in all probability, admit such patterns as a definite grammatical type, fairly common not only in English but in other languages.

There are elliptical sentences containing a subject and a predicative, which may be either a noun or an adjective e. g.:

Michael not cheerful? (Galsworthy)

Such structures are common in languages which have not developed a copula, i. e. a verb meaning to be, as well as in languages which have a copula but do not use it as extensively as, for instance, English. In Russian and Ukrainian this is the ordinary sentence-pattern, e. g.: Он занят. Он здоров. Вона щаслива. Він здоровий, etc.

By leaving out what may seem superfluous one creates the impression of hurry or stress of business which does not allow time enough to round off one's sentence in the usual way. It is also of importance that proverbs and proverbial sayings should be easy to remember and therefore not too long, e. g.: When angry, count a hundred. When at Rome, do as Romans do.

Observe also the following common sentence patterning:

He will have his own way, no matter what the consequences.

However great the danger, he is always fearless.

Never, no matter what the circumstances, must he dare to do such things.

Here we have really a double occurrence of the phenomenon in question. No matter is a preposed predicative without is, and in the clause which forms its subject, what is also a predicative to the consequences, etc., which forms the subject of the clause.

Peculiar is the use of isolated predicatives with and, e. g.:

He was such a success yesterday, and no wonder.

He may go and welcome. And a good riddance too!

You were angry, and small blame to you.

Not less characteristic are reduced clauses of comparison:

The greater the loss, the more persistent they were.

The more haste, the less speed.

In all such cases the fact that something is left out should not prevent us from recognising the utterance as sufficiently complete to be called a sentence.

He had gone up and down the stairs perhaps a hundred times in those two days, and often from the day nursery, where he slept now, had stolen into his mother's room, looked at everything, without touching, and on into the dressing-room...

Then rapidly to the door, down the steps, out into the street and without looking to right or left into the automobile. (Galsworthy)

A feeling of terseness and of vigour is also produced by the omission of verbs in such fixed patterns of usage as:

Needless to say, facts are stubborn things.

How naughty of him to say so!


In the same way the subject may be expressed by a gerund, e. g.:

No use crying over spilt milk.

No good doing such things.

Very often the subject that follows the predicative is a whole clause, e. g.:

Small wonder that we all liked it immensely.

What a pity we have missed the train!

Patterns like the following: No, he didn't. Why, hasn't he? are referred by R. L. Allen "semi-sentences".

Such sentence-patterns seldom occur as the first utterance in conversation. They are fairly common in "tag"-questions (You don't know Mr. X., do you?) and in short answers (No, I don't).

Distinction will be made here between finite and non-finite sentences:

No, I don't. Why, didn't she? Oh, caught in the act? On your way home? About to go there?

Perhaps the most important difference between finite semi-sentences and non-finite ones is that the former show time-orientation, whereas the latter do not.


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