Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

June 24, 2009


Although this might sound like a strange affliction, it is really a word to describe how we sometimes omit words in a sentence without upsetting the meaning.

We often do this in more casual speaking

Fancy a beer?

and writing.

Gone out,  back around 10

As you can see this kind of English usage is very natural and if you listen to native speakers you will hear and see ellipsis used constantly.

Here are some guidelines on what you can omit from sentences, how to achieve this natural sounding language  and things to beware of.

  • We can leave out the subject:    Missed the train!(I/We ….)


  • Also the subject and auxiliary verbFinished?   (Have you.. ) Coming!(I’m/We’re …)


  • Articles and determiners can be left out sometimes:  Problems at work. (there are),  Any ice in the freezer? (Is there)


  • Prepositions:  Back Saturday (We’ll be back on Saturday)

We often use ellipsis in:

  • questions             Find your bag? (Did you find your bag?)


  • replies to questions       Not sure   (I’m not sure)


  • with verbs of perception: hear,  see, think etc..  Heard from James? (Have you heard from James?)

Finally with questions such as do you want, or would you like ellipsis is very common:

More tea?  (Would you like more tea?)

Cigarette?  (Do you want a cigarette?)

Things to be careful about.

Remember that ellipsis is informal, so as with other aspects of register (formal/informal) think about who you are communicating with, what the subject is and what is appropriate.

If you saw   Sent flowers!  are you sure who received the flowers? I would assume that I had sent them to someone else. If I had received them I would be more likely to say/write  Been sent flowers! So it isn’t always cut and dried (forgive the pun – which refers to flowers!).

Don’t omit modal auxiliaries or the meaning won’t be clear – compare;

  • Got the promotion!  with Might have got a promotion!

Notice also the use of the article in each sentence. It is important to retain precision in the meaning.

Quite a tricky area I think but one worth spending some time on because it is very common and it does add that extra something to your performance!


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