Elliptical Constructions (Elliptical Clauses)

This post is dedicated to Noah Webster and Ian Fleming (look at the History Today section below).

Elliptical Clauses or Elliptical Constructions are some special clauses in English, in which certain words are omitted. The avoided words are implied within the clause itself; so, letting them out doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence in any way. Also, letting out some words may make the sentence better by avoiding redundancy. For example:

Tim types fast, and I do too (I type fast too).

Mary couldn’t complete the course, but I don’t know why (he couldn’t complete the course).

Mike has two children, and Joe has five (Joe has five children).

The sentences are meaningful without the words given in brackets. These are, however, perfect only with the words in the brackets, but adding those words would make the sentences rather bad looking and redundant. So, it is better to avoid them.

However, the elliptical clauses are correct only in situations, where the meaning is not affected. In certain other places, they may cause confusion in meaning and those sentences should have the omitted words, or be rewritten. For instance:

Jim played well for the tournament, and Mary couldn’t on TV.

Here the sentence is complete only if we add “Mary couldn’t watch it on TV.” The above sentence has absolutely no meaning.

The following sentence has a confusion in it.

Gary purchased a dress for his wife, and Tom purchased one too.

Though it may be somewhat evident that Tom purchased the dress for his wife, it can also mean that Tom purchased it for Gary’s wife. Such confusion is more felt in the following sentence:

Jim threw a stone at the elephant, I also did the same, and the tiger, which chased me, wailed. Here the sentence doesn’t make it clear whom ‘I’ threw the stone, the tiger or the elephant. However, it seems in the third part that I stoned the tiger.

Read the sentences fully and understand what exactly is the meaning before you jump into conclusions and omit words to make them look cool. Sentences, which look very innocuous, may confuse the readers. More examples of elliptical constructions are here:

Jim walked to the park, and Menaka to the school.

Joe is very attractive, as Kathy is.

Bob treated his teacher as exactly as he would his mother.

Honeybees buzzed around, and so did some wasps.

History Today

Irish poet, Thomas Moore was born in 1779. His best works include The Minstrel Boy.

Ian Fleming, British author and creator of James Bond was born in 1908, 100 years ago now. He is one of those writers, obscured by the characters they created.

Ian Fleming, Creator of James Bond

Ian Fleming, the Creator of James Bond

Patrick White, Australian author and Nobel laureate, was born in 1912.

Noah Webster, American writer and lexicographer, died in 1843.Webster, known far and wide as ‘The Father of American Scholarship and Education’, is known to us all through Merriam-Webster dictionary, which originally he established as An American Dictionary of the English Language. My heartfelt tributes to this great man.

Noah Webster

Noah Webster
First edition of Merriam-Webster (An American Dictionary of English Language (1828))Noah Webster's first dictionary (1828)

Copyright © Lenin Nair 2008

2 Opinions:

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  2. Thank, Lenin. I've added your excellent blog to the resource list on my blog, My Writing Life, www.learnedaboutwriting.blogspot.com


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