Grammar: Elliptical Clause

Posted December 15, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

An elliptical clause can swing both ways: independent and dependent. It is consistent, however, in leaving things out. But it still has to make sense!

As cryptic as this seems, the elliptical clause is frequently used in casual conversation. We’re not even aware of it.

Okay, I tell a small white lie…most every time a that is left out of a sentence, you’re creating an elliptical clause. ‘Cause the that is missing.

Grammar Explanations is…

…an evolving list of the structural rules and principles that determines where words are placed in phrases or sentences as well as how the language is spoken. Sometimes I run across an example that helps explain better or another “also known as”. Heck, there’s always a better way to explain it, so if it makes quicker and/or better sense, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone… Are there areas of grammar with which you struggle? If you’d like to track it, bookmark this page and consider sharing this Grammar Explanation with friends by tweeting it.

Elliptical Clause
Credit to: English Plus; Guide to Grammar and Writing; English Plus
Definition: A clause in which some words have been left out, however because of the pattern or logic of the entire sentence, it is clear what the missing words are. In some cases, a comma may be substituted for the missing word to ensure the sentence flows.

Independent Elliptical Clause
Definition: An independent clause, i.e., a complete sentence with a subject + a verb, that happens to have left some words out.

  1. Strikethrough indicates the omitted words

Lady Mary knew that this season would be her last.

Kenny had five cookies; Helen had, two.

After the raw stone had arrived, Jerry knew that he had chosen well.

Pronouns with As or Than Most of the time, we leave words out when using a pronoun in a comparison with as or than, which makes this an elliptical clause.

Rule: Writers must pay attention to which pronouns are being left out, as it can change the meaning of the sentence:

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  1. Green indicates the affected pronoun
  2. Gray indicates the “missing” word
He likes you more than he likes me.

He likes you more than I do.

He sees you more often than I see you.

He sees you more often than he sees me.

Wrong Pronoun Correct Pronoun
He is taller than her.

He’s taller than her is?

He is taller than she is.
He is as happy as them.

He is as happy as them are?

He is as happy as they are.
Subordinate Elliptical Clause
Definition: An dependent clause, i.e., an incomplete sentence, that happens to have left some words out.

  1. Yellow indicates the dependent clause
  2. Strikethrough indicates the omitted words

However slow they were, they still got the job done.

George cleaned faster than Paul could clean.

He likes gravy more than I like gravy.

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