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Ellipsis

Native speakers of English may use ellipsis without knowing or fully understanding its meaning. In fact, there are many different types of ellipsis to be aware of. No, we're not just talking about the three dots symbol ( . . . ) - ellipsis in linguistics is actually a pretty vast topic! Let's begin by looking at the meaning of ellipsis,

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Native speakers of English may use ellipsis without knowing or fully understanding its meaning. In fact, there are many different types of ellipsis to be aware of. No, we're not just talking about the three dots symbol ( . . . ) - ellipsis in linguistics is actually a pretty vast topic! Let's begin by looking at the meaning of ellipsis,

Ellipsis Meaning

Ellipsis in linguistics refers to the omission (removal) of one or more words from a clause. The rest of the sentence can be understood through context, so the omitted words are not necessary to the meaning of the sentence. Using ellipsis often reduces the need for repetition, as any unnecessary words can just be left out.

The plural of ellipsis is ellipses, and its adjective form is elliptical. The symbol "..." is referred to as an/the ellipsis.

To put it simply, ellipsis in linguistics refers to the removal of words from a clause.

Ellipsis can also refer to the ellipsis symbol (...), which is used to mark the use of ellipsis. It is mainly used in literature to show a pause or a trailing thought.

Types of Ellipsis

There are many different types of ellipsis used for different reasons - let's focus on the main five. These are as follows:

1. Gapping

2. Pseudogapping

3. Stripping

4. Verb phrase ellipsis

5. Noun phrase ellipsis

Let's look at each of these in more detail!

Gapping

Gapping takes place when any words are left out in a sentence (such as the omission of verbs, adjectives, nouns, etc.). An example is:

"My car is blue, and my sister's car is too."

This sentence omits the adjective "blue." Without this ellipsis, the sentence would read, "My car is blue, and my sister's car is blue too."

Pseudogapping

Pseudogapping happens when the main verb from a verb phrase is left out of a sentence. For example:

"Harry is working this morning, and Martin is this evening."

In this sentence, the omitted word is "working," which is part of the verb phrase "is working." With the omitted phrase included, the sentence would read, "Harry is working this morning, and Martin is working this evening."

The main difference between gapping and pseudogapping is that gapping can be the removal of any word from any word class, whereas pseudogapping must be a verb from a verb phrase.

Stripping

Stripping occurs when everything besides a single element is omitted from a sentence. The sentence often ends with a particle, such as "too," "as well," or "also." For example:

"Mary told Steve to dress up for the party, and Kevin too."

Here, "Mary told [name] to dress up for the party" is omitted from the second clause, leaving only "Kevin."

With the omitted part included, the whole sentence would be, "Mary told Steve to dress up for the party, and Mary told Kevin to dress up for the party too." This makes the sentence unnecessarily long!

Verb Phrase Ellipsis

Verb phrase ellipsis takes place in a sentence when a whole verb phrase (a group of words made up of a verb and a direct or indirect object) is omitted. For example:

"I want to go to the zoo, and my sister wants to as well."

In this sentence, the verb phrase "go to the zoo" is left out. With this included, the sentence would instead read, "I want to go to the zoo, and my sister wants to go to the zoo as well."

Noun Phrase Ellipsis

Noun phrase ellipsis occurs when part of a noun phrase (a group of words that contains a noun and any modifiers) is omitted from a sentence. For example:

"Greta ate two cupcakes, but I ate three."

In this sentence, the word "cupcakes" is omitted from the noun phrase "three cupcakes." With this whole phrase included, the sentence would read, "Greta ate two cupcakes, but I ate three cupcakes."

Pseudogapping Vs. Verb Phrase Ellipsis

Pseudogapping and verb phrase ellipsis are often considered to be varieties of the same type of ellipsis, but there are differences between the two.

The main difference between pseudogapping and verb phrase ellipsis is that pseudogapping involves removing only the main verb part from a verb phrase, whereas verb phrase ellipsis involves removing the entire verb phrase. For example:

Take the sentence "They play tennis more than she does baseball." This sentence is an example of pseudogapping, as the main verb "play" is left out of the sentence. This can be shown more clearly through this diagram:

Ellipsis Tree diagram of pseudogapping StudySmarterFig. 1 - Pseudogapping in a sentence is the removal of the main verb (from a verb phrase).

Now take the sentence "They play tennis more than she does." This sentence is an example of verb phrase ellipsis as the verb phrase "play tennis" is left out of the sentence, as shown in the diagram below:

Ellipsis Tree diagram of verb phrase ellipsis StudySmarterFig. 2 - Verb phrase ellipsis in a sentence is the removal of a verb phrase.

These diagrams are referred to as "tree diagrams" and are often used in the study of syntax to show the structure of sentences or parts of sentences.

Ellipsis Examples

Below are some examples of the different types of ellipsis in linguistics. Also included are the full sentences (the omitted words are in parentheses).

Type of ellipsisExample Example with omitted words included
GappingI can play the piano, and my sister the flute.I can play the piano, and my sister [can play the] flute.
PseudogappingHe will read the book but won't the magazine.He will read the book but won't [read] the magazine.
StrippingI have a cat and Katherine too.I have a cat, and Katherine [has a cat] too.
Verb phrase ellipsisShe has won the game before, so she will again.She has won before, so she will [win the game] again.
Noun phrase ellipsisWe watched the first episode of the show and the second.We watched the first episode of the show and the second [episode of the show].
GappingI will paint a picture of you and you of me.I will paint a picture of you, and you [will paint a picture] of me.
PseudogappingIf you go tonight, I will tomorrow.If you go tonight, I will [go] tomorrow.
StrippingCory has watched this movie twice, and Fred too.Cory has watched this movie twice, and Fred [has watched this movie twice] too.
Verb phrase ellipsisShe wanted to go bowling, so she did.She wanted to go bowling, so she did [go bowling].
Noun phrase ellipsisI'm wearing Julie's coat, and you're wearing Kelly's.I'm wearing Julie's coat, and you're wearing Kelly's [coat].

Uses of Ellipsis

As shown in the examples above, ellipsis can be used for a variety of reasons. To summarize, the main use of ellipsis in linguistics is to omit unnecessary words and reduce the need for repetition.

Ellipsis in Literature

In literature, ellipsis can be used to signify an unfinished thought or to create a pause (often for dramatic effect). It is marked by the use of three periods (... or . . . ). Take the sentence "I waited for an eternity", as an example. It can be made more dramatic through the use of ellipsis. e.g., "I waited for an eternity..."

Ellipsis can also be used to create realistic conversations. When people talk, especially in casual conversations, they don't always use full sentences. In this case, ellipsis can be used to omit words that the listener will still be able to understand through the context of the remaining utterance. For example, instead of saying, "That looks nice," someone could say, "Looks nice." Here, the subject "that" has been omitted but will still be understood through context.

Ellipsis Image of a conversation StudySmarterFig. 3 - Ellipsis can be used in both spoken and written communication.

Ellipsis in Linguistics

It is important to be aware that ellipsis in linguistics differs from ellipsis in literature. In linguistics, ellipsis refers to the omission of one or more words from a sentence. It is used when you want to avoid the unnecessary repetition of words, and the rest of the sentence can still be understood through context. When ellipsis is used in literature, it is often used as a tool for dramatic effect, to signify a trailing thought or a pause. It can also be used to leave out words and create a natural-sounding, conversational dialogue.

Native speakers of English may find it easier to understand linguistic ellipsis than non-native speakers. But why is this? Native speakers are used to the structure of sentences and clauses as they have been picking up the language since they were born. This means they are more likely to understand the words that have been omitted and the remaining parts of the sentence. Non-native English speakers may be less aware of the structure of sentences, so they may find it more difficult to understand the sentence's meaning if words are left out.

Ellipsis Symbol

Ellipsis can be marked or unmarked.

  • If ellipsis is used to omit words from a sentence, it is often unmarked, meaning no punctuation is used.

  • On the other hand, when ellipsis is used to signify a pause or trailing thought, it is often marked - this is done by using an ellipsis symbol; three periods which can be written as ... or . . .

For example:

"She looked everywhere... He was nowhere to be found."

Ellipsis Image of ellipsis symbol StudySmarterFig. 4 - The ellipsis symbol is known colloquially as 'dot dot dot.'

Ellipsis - Key takeaways

  • Ellipsis in linguistics refers to the omission of one or more words from a clause.
  • Using ellipsis often reduces the need for repetition, as any unnecessary words can be left out.
  • There are 5 main types of ellipsis in linguistics. These are gapping, pseudogapping, stripping, verb phrase ellipsis, and noun phrase ellipsis.
  • When used in literature, an ellipsis is often used as a tool for dramatic effect and can signify a trailing thought or pause. Ellipsis can also create natural-sounding conversational dialogue.

  • When ellipsis is marked, it is done by using the ellipsis symbol (three dots).

Frequently Asked Questions about Ellipsis

Ellipsis refers to the omission of one or more words from a clause. 

An example of ellipsis is "sounds good to me." Here, the subject of the sentence has been omitted.

3 commonly used types of ellipsis are: gapping, pseudogapping, and stripping.

Ellipsis should be used if you want to do one of the following:


1. Remove a word or words from a sentence to avoid repeating yourself.

2. Indicate a pause

3. Indicate an unfinished thought

Ellipsis in linguistics refers to the omission of one or more words from a clause.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

If ellipsis in a sentence is marked, which symbol do you use?

True or false?Ellipsis refers to the addition of extra information.

Who will find it easier to understand ellipsis?

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