An ELT Glossary : Ellipsis

Definition : The omission of one or more words from a sentence or utterance because they can be understood from the linguistic or situational context.

Examples :

- in Want a biscuit? the words Do you are ellipted. The intonation of the utterance makes it clear that a question is intended, so that grammatical marking becomes redundant - compare it with the intonation that would be used if a small child demanded a biscuit saying Want a biscuit! Again ellipsis is involved (of the subject I) but the context and intonation leaves the listener in no doubt as to what is intended.  This is an example of ellipsis in spoken English, but it is also common in written English - for example in the following text message, all rhe non-essential grammatical words have been ellipted, leaving only the lexical items: Train late again. Signals not working. Home as soon as possible. The reader's knowledge of grammar allows them to "fill in the gaps".

- in  He got up and walked out  the word he is ellipted in the second clause. Again, the listener/reader's knowledge of grammar tells them that if a verb in a second co-ordinated clause has no explicit subject, it will be the same as that in the first clause.

- in The man I spoke to was not very helpful the relative pronoun who is ellipted. This can be done only when the relative pronoun replaces the object or complement of the clause, not when it replaces the subject - eg it is not possible in The man who spoke to me was not very helpful.

- in The second person interviewed got the job  both the relative pronoun and the verb BE are ellipted (the second person who was interviewed...) forming a reduced relative clause.

Related Reading

McCarthy M, Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers, CUP

(Try clicking on the link - and no, we don't earn anything from your clicks - and then clicking on "Look inside". Type ellipsis into the search box to see where it comes up.)