A FEW days ago, reader Kristian Paul Abran asked me on my Facebook page: “Is there any difference between an elliptical sentence and an elliptical clause,or are they just the same?”
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 brevity’s sake, taking for granted that the reader or listener—aware of the context—would just logically fill in the gaps with the missing grammatical elements. For instance, before being ellipted, the sentence may run this way: “You may go when you’re done with your school assignments.” That sentence can drop the words “you may” and “with your school assignments” to come up with this ellipted statement: “Go when you’re done.”
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 “Many did favor the maverick candidate, but others didn’t favor the maverick candidate” would normally be ellipted to “Many did favor the maverick candidate, but others didn’t […].” For brevity’s sake, the repetitive phrase “favor the maverick candidate” 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 there’s 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. It’s 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 “that” in modifying clauses. Unellipted: “They somehow knew that they would be routed by the maverick candidate.” Ellipted: “They somehow knew[…] they would be routed by the maverick candidate.”
(2) Elliptical noun phrases. Unellipted: “Amelia ordered the regular-size orange drink but the salesclerk gave her the large-size orange drink.” Ellipted by dropping “orange drink” in the second clause: “Amelia ordered the regular-size orange drink but the salesclerk gave her the large-size […].”
(3) Ellipsis of the verb and its objects or complements. Unellipted: “The ailing candidate declared that she would campaign to very end if she could campaign to the very end.” Ellipted by dropping “campaign to the very end” in the second clause: “The ailing candidate declared […] she would campaign to very end if she could […].”
(4) Medial (middle) ellipsis. Unellipted: “Edwin will take care of the urban sector voters and Carina will take care of the rural sector voters.” Ellipted by dropping “will take care of” in the second clause: “Edwin will take care of urban sector voters and Carina, […] the rural sector voters.”
(5) Ellipsis of clause. Unellipted: “They can start voting now if they want to start voting now.” Ellipted by dropping “start voting now” in the second clause: “They can start voting now if they want to […].”
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 ellipsis—the grammatical hole in an elliptical sentence—and then applying them logically, unobstrusively, and gracefully.
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