Ellipsis in English
Halliday & Hassan (1976) Cohesion in English
Ahmed Qadoury Abed (Ph D candidate)
Baghdad University /College of Arts/
What is ellipsis? 1
‘undertood’ in the special sense of
‘going without saying’.
We are referring to clauses and
sentences ,etc. whose structure is
such as to presuppose some
preceding item, which then serves
as the source of the missing
An elliptical item is one which
leaves specific structural slots to
be filled from elsewhere.
- Joan brought some carnations ,and Cathrine (E) some
Ellipsis , Substitution ,and
Halliday& Hassan define ellipsis in
relation to another important cohesive
device, i.e. substitution, since they
embody the same fundamental relation
between parts of the text. Ellipsis is
substitution by zero.
a. This is a fine hall you have here. I’m
proud to be lecturing in it (R).
b. This is a fine hall you have here. I've
never lectured in a finer one (S).
c. This is a fine hall you have here. I've
never lectured in a finer (E).
Ellipsis: Anophoric ,Cataphoric
, and Exophoric
Ellipsis is normally an anaphoric relation.
Ellipsis is also catapjoric:
- Because Alice won't ( dust the furniture ); Mary has to
dust the furniture.
Occasionally the presupposition in an eliptical
structure may be it exophoric .
If a housewife on seeing the milkman
approach calls out
She is using exophoric ellipsis ;it is the context
of situation that provides the information
needed to interpret this (p.144).
Nominal Ellipsis 1
Nominal ellipsis means "the omission of a noun
head“ in a nominal group.
He bought a red car, but I like the blue.
The Nominal Group is
(Premodifiers) + Head + (Postmodifiers)
Those two fast electric trains with pantographs
premodifiers Head postmodifiers
1- Deictic (d) ------those------determiners
2- Numerative (n)-----two---- numerals (or quantifier)
4- Classifiers (c) ----– nouns
5- Qualifier (q)---- with pantographs—(Relative Clause /pre phrase)
- Adverbs ---so, every, too
- Head –(common noun, proper noun, pronoun)—Thing
The most characteristic instances of ellipsis are those with Deictics and
Nominal Ellipsis 2
Nominal ellipsis is when Head is omitted
and its function is taken on by one of
these modifiers. Therefore, it involves the
upgrading of a word function not Head
from the status of Modifier to the status of
Which hat will you wear?
a- the best (E)
b- the best hat (no E)
This is c- the best of the hats (no E)
d- the best of the three (E)
e- the best you have (E)
Nominal Ellipsis: Deictics 4
There are three types of Deictics:
Nominal Ellipsis: Specific
1- Possessives (Smith’s, my father’s, my, your, mine, hers,
- Just ask Janet how to polish the brassware. Hers
2- Demonstratives (this, that, these, those)
The itself does not operate elliptically, since its function is to
signal that the thing designated is fully defined, but by
something other than the itself, it normally requires
another item with it as in the two , the small, etc.
- The boy’s (parents) had no time for him.
- Take these pills three times daily. And you’d better
have some more of those too.
- The one that got away.
- Which one is your father?—the taller
Nominal Ellipsis: Non-Specific
Each , every, any, either , no, neither, a, some , all ,
Of these, all occur as Head of an elliptical nominal
except every, but a, and no have to be represented
by the forms one and none ,respectively.
a. I hope no bones are broken ?-None to speak of.
b. I won't be introduced to the pudding, please. May I
give you some?
c. Have some milk.- I don't see any milk- There isn't
d. Write an essay on the Stuart kings. Two pages
about each will do.
e. His sons went into business. Neither succeeded.
Nominal Ellipsis: Post-Deictics
Post-deictics are not determiners but
adjectives. These are some thirty to forty
adjectives used commonly in deictic
function: other ,same ,different, identical,
usual, regular, certain, odd, famous,
well-known, typical, obvious ,etc.
- I ‘ve used up these three folders you
gave me. Can I use the other?
- I ‘ll have the usual, please.
- A group of well-dressed young men
suddenly appeared on the stage. One of
them bowed to the audience; the others
The Numerative element in the nominal group is expressed
by numerals or other quantifying words, which form three
1-ordinals (first, next, last, second ,fourth ,…)
2- cardinals (the three, these three, any three, all three,the
usual three, the same three,…)
3- indefinite quantifiers (much ,many, more, most, few,
several, a little, lots, a bit, hundreds,..)
- Have another chocolate?- No thanks; that was my third.
- Have another chocolate?- No thanks;I’ve had my three.
- Can all cats climb trees?- They all can ;and most do.
- . 'You ought to have a wooden horse on wheels., that you
ought !. – ‘ I’ll get one’: the Knight said thoughtfully to
himself . ‘One or two - several.’
- ‘One side will make you grow taller,and the other side will
make you grow shorter.’ ‘One side of what?The other side of
what? Thought Alice to herself. ‘Of the mushroom,’ said the
Caterpiler,just as if she had asked it aloud.
Nominal Ellipsis: Epithets 11
The function of Epithet is typically fulfilled by an adjective .It is
not common to find adjectives occurring as Head in ellipsis:
1- colour adjectives
Green suits you very well.
I like strong tea. I suppose weak is better for you.
The rich , the poor, the honest
I’ll buy you some prettier.
Mary is the cleverer.
They are fine actors. Jones always gets hold of the finest.
Verbal Ellipsis 1
An elliptical verbal group presupposes one or more
words from a previous verbal group. Technically, it is
defined as a verbal group whose structure does not
fully express its systemic features:
1- finiteness (finite or non-finite)
2- polarity :positive or negative
3- voice :active or passive
4- tense: past or present or future
a-Have you been swimming? – Yes, I have.
b- What have you been doing?- swimming
The elliptical swimming has the features of finite,
positive, active, present in past in present, but none
of these selections is shown in its own structure.
They have to be recovered by presupposition.
A verb group (have been swimming) whose structure
fully represents all its systematic features is not
Verbal Ellipsis: Lexical Ellipsis
Lexical ellipsis is that type in which the lexical verb is
missing from the verbal group. Thus, Any verbal
group not containing a lexical verb is elliptical. Any
verbal group consisting of a modal or an operator
only can immediately be recognized as elliptical:
- Is John going to come?- He might. He was to, but he
may not, - He should, if he wants his name to be
Be, have, and do can be elliptical and substitutes
-Did Jane know?-No, but Mary did (no E).
- Did Jane know?- Yes ,she did (E).
Here, the distinction between elliptical and non-elliptical
forms has to be recovered from the presupposed
clause ,since did is a lexical verb replaced by knew in
the first sentence ,while an operator in the latter.
Verbal Ellipsis: Operator
It involves only the omission of operators; the lexical
verb always remains intact, and the subject is always
omitted from the clause; it must therefore be
a. What have you been doing?
This constitutes the first type of operator ellipsis:
sequences such as questions and answers, in which
the lexical verb either supplies the answer to ‘do
what?’ as in the above example , or repudiates the
verb in the question:
- Has she been crying?- No, laughing .
The other type is in coordination:
- Some were laughing and others crying.
Clausal Ellipsis 1
The clause has two-part structure consisting of
modal and proposition:
The Duke was going to plant a row of poplars in the park
In the park the Duke was going to plant a row of poplars .
A row of poplars the Duke was going to plant in the park.
The elements in circles are the modal
Clausal Ellipsis 2
Clausal ellipsis represents the
omission of a part of the clause or all
of it. For example, the subject-
pronoun element is frequently
omitted specially in spoken texts.
Such ellipsis is often associated with
questions and responses in
dialogues. It is similar to the verbal
ellipsis except that clausal ellipsis is
external to the verb itself, affecting
other elements in the structure of the
Clausal Ellipsis 3
Typically ,modal ellipsis occurs in responses to a
Wh- questions ‘what (did, does, do):
a. What were they doing?- Holding hands.
The usual type of non-finite dependent clause is simply a
clause with modal ellipsis
Typically, propositional ellipsis occurs in responses
to statements and yes/no questions, where the
subject is presupposed by a reference item:
a. The plane has landed.—Has it?
b. Has the plane landed?—Yes, it has.
Clausal Ellipsis: No ellipsis of
single elements 4
It is not possible in English to say:
*Has she taken her medicine?-She
Either we must reply with a full ,non-
elliptical clause, or we must omit
both ‘her medicine’ and the lexical
verb ‘take’, or ‘do’ as substitution:
She has taken her medicine. Or
She has. Or
She has done (S).
Clausal Ellipsis: Question-
The ‘question-answer’ sequence is a standard
pattern in language, and the cohesive relation
between them has its own characteristic
An observation by a speaker may be followed by an
observation by another speaker that is related to it
in a cohesive tie. This is called rejoinder.
A rejoinder can be direct response or indirect
A direct response as in yes/no question and wh-
Has John arrived? –Yes , he has.
When did John arrive?- Yesterday.
Clausal Ellipsis: Question-
An indirect response can be:
1- one which comments on the question
- How did they break in? –I’ll show you how.
- Is it Tuesday today? – I don’t know.
2- one which denies its relevance (disclaimer):
- Why didn’t you tell John? – I did.
- When did they cancel the booking?- Did they?
3-one which gives supplementary information implying
but not actually expressing an answer
-Did you tell John?- He wasn’t there.
-Are you coming back today?- This evening.
Clausal Ellipsis: Indirect
This type found in indirect wh-
questions, indirect yes/no questions,
and indirect statements:
- The jewels are missing.– I wonder what else.
- Who could have broken those tiles?- I can’t think
- John was disappointed by the response.—You can
- She might be better living away from home. –I’m not
- I wonder if it’ll rain on the day of the picnic.-
- England won the cup. –Who told you?
- I think the check is still valid.—The bank can tell