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Proper grammatical use of ellipsis

Автор: Британ Андрій Ярославович, студент, Національний педагогічний університет імені М.П. Драгоманова


The function of language is to communicate meaning, and grammar is only one of the tools language employs to serve that function. Yet meaning can be entirely clear and grammar still faulty, just as meaning can be entirely clear in a sentence with misspelled words. Good grammar has to be good in itself, not just adequate to communicate meaning [1; 14].

The main linguists and scholars who dealt with this point are A. I. Smirnitsky, B. A. Ilyish, N. Buranov, V. V. Vinogradov, O. Jespersen and some others.

The objective of the research is analyses of rules of omission of parts of phrase pairs, omission of verb forms, omission of relative pronouns.

The actuality of this research caused by several important points. We seem to say that the shortening of the sentences is one of the main trends in development of Modern English, especially in its colloquial layer, which, in its turn at high degree is supported by development of simplification of everyday speech.

The term ellipsis – implies absence of one or both principal parts and the omission of the material can be recovered by the hearer or reader [4; 3].

We start with the analyses of examples of omission of parts of phrase pairs. Firstly we will deal with the sentence – The stock has always performed as well or better than expected – which attempts to be a compact sentence and does leave out some dispensable words, but the second as in the adverbial construction as well as should not be omitted; it should be as well as or better than expected. The error is common in sentences that include phrase pairs such as as well as . . . or better than and as much as . . . if not more than. Thus: The stock has gone up as much if not more than IBM is a similar error [3; 77].

Now we have to analyse the rules of omission of verb forms. For example the sentence He either will or has already left is wrong. The verb form left is appropriate with the second auxiliary verb, has, but in appropriate with the first, will. This kind of error is sometimes called syllepsis. The sentence should be He either will leave or has already left [3; 29].

Elliptical sentences are particularly common in spoken dialogue and in written representation of dialogue.

Alice (crossing to the windows): What’s he doing out there?

Genevra: annoying father (Gow and D’Usseau) [5; 49].

When no auxiliary verb is involved but a verb changes form because of a change in person, the verb can be omitted in the second construction: I drive more than she –, I supply his financial support, his mother his emotional support.

Occasionally the multiple meanings of verbs are used deliberately for a humorous effect, a device sometimes also called syllepsis but more precisely called zeugma: He bolted the door and his dinner –, He took his hat and his leave. You better do it right now is an odd but very common error; the verb had is left out completely. In speech, You had better is quite properly contracted to You’d better, then improperly blurred to You better –, people come to consider it some sort of idiom, or perhaps as the correct imperative You do it right now with better thrown in as an intensifier, and use it even in writing. It is incorrect in either speech or writing [4; 79].

“A father is worried that his daughter will spill her chocolate milk. The glass is very full, and she is quite young, and prone to accident. He says, “Both hands!” [5; 81].

In the context, one cannot say “That’s both hands!” and expect the child to understand this as command to use both hands to hold her glass.

We start analysis of omission of relative pronouns with such example as: He is the man went to Washington is distinctly folksy. However, He is the man we sent to Washington is good standard grammar. We cannot ordinarily leave out a subjective relative pronoun such as who, but we can often leave out an objective relative pronoun such as whom. In simple sentences, the distinction is clear even with pronouns such as which and that, which have the same form in subjective and objective cases; we accept This is the house Jack built but not This is the house fell down around Jack –we have to supply the pronoun which or that to serve as the subject of fell [4; 99].

In works of fiction, elliptical sentences are made use of either to reproduce the direct speech of characters, or to impart brevity, a quick tempo to the author’s narrative.

He became one of the prominent men of the house. Spoke clearly, sensibly and modestly and was never too long: “Held the House where men of higher abilities “bored” it”  [5; 43].

Ellipsis, a fascinating linguistic possibility, involves leaving out certain linguistic elements and yet conveying the meaning; that is, the meaning of the elliptically dropped element is understood. Used as a device or component of style, however, ellipsis intimates extra layers of meaning as well. Effective writers in English make an earnest effort to be truly economical with words. They don’t only methodically knock off redundancies but also prune out needlessly repetitive phrasing that might just turn off readers. The analysis of the selected examples of the using of ellipsis in this study revealed that a great majority of the instances of elliptical patterns acted fairly not easy to use grammatically correct.



  1. Ginzburg R.S. A Course in Modern English Lexicology. – M. : 1999.
  2. Buranov A., Muminov J. Modern English Lexicology T. O’qituvchi. –1995.
  3. Arnold I.V. The English Word. – M. : High School. - 2006.
  4. Edward Johnson. The Hand book of Good English. – London : 2009.
  5. Caught in web of words. – Edited by Murray E. - 2006.
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