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Using Elliptical Constructions to Write More Concisely

Summary

In English, words can be omitted from a sentence for the sake of brevity using an elliptical construction

An elliptical construction is a sentence from which one or more words are omitted for the sake of conciseness. This act of omission is also called elision. The meaning of the shortened sentence should still be clear, however, based on the surrounding context. One very common type of elision is omission of a verb-containing phrase. To use an example drawn from the sciences,

  • The positive control exhibited an increase of 14%, the negative control exhibited an increase of 3%, and the experimental group exhibited an increase of 16%.

This sentence is wordy because the phrase “exhibited an increase of” is repeated in each of the three clauses. To make the sentence more concise, we can elide this phrase from the second and third clauses:

  • Elliptical construction: The positive control exhibited an increase of 14%; the negative control, 0%; and the experimental group, 16%.

In this revised sentence, the omitted text is implied by the phrasing used in the first clause and by the commas added to mark where the redundant text was removed. Note that the addition of commas necessitates the use of semicolons between the clauses (you can read more about semicolon use in comma-containing lists here).

We could apply the same type of revision to a simpler version of this sentence:

  • The positive control exhibited an increase of 14%, and the negative control exhibited an increase of 0%.
  • Elliptical construction: The positive control exhibited an increase of 14%; the negative control, 0%.

In a two-clause case like this one, the conjunction separating the clauses is typically removed and replaced with a semicolon.

However, elliptical constructions may sometimes be clear enough and flow well enough without additional punctuation. This is frequently the case if the omitted text is followed by a preposition, such as “by”:

  • The positive control grew by 4 cm, and the negative control grew by 1 cm.
  • Elliptical construction: The positive control grew by 4 cm, and the negative control by 1 cm.

If the elision is located at the end of a clause, additional punctuation is not necessary either:

  • The positive control exhibited an increase, and the negative control did not exhibit an increase.
  • Elliptical construction: The positive control exhibited an increase, and the negative control did not.

In both of these examples of elliptical constructions, note that the conjunction (here, “and”) is maintained between the clauses.

If you have any questions on the topic of elliptical constructions, please write to us at [email protected]. For information about the use of ellipses when punctuating quotations, refer to this article, and for details on elision when writing a comparison sentence, see this article.

Tags Writing a manuscript Language editing Editing tips Concise writing Clarity in writing Sentence structure Punctuation Grammar

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