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Frontal ellipsis

18 October 2019

Spoken grammar: lexico-grammatical features of conversation highlighted in corpus research.


‘Ellipsis’ means leaving words out when your meaning is clear without them:

A: (Would you like some) More tea?

B: No thanks, I’ve had enough (tea).


Ellipsis is common in conversation. It saves time (and also, as the listener mentally ‘fills in the gaps’,  connects what you say to the language around it). Often it would sound odd not to be elliptical:

A: Can I come into town with you?

B: Yes, if you want to come into town with me.

(instead: B: Yes, if you want to.)


But what I’d like to take a brief look at here is the type of ellipsis that is sometimes regarded as ungrammatical, but is actually a very common feature of conversation: frontal (or initial) ellipsis, affecting pronouns and auxiliary verbs.


Here are examples of the initial omission of a pronoun. Note that a form of be + a/an (or the contracted form of have or would) may be omitted along with the pronoun:

A: (It’s a) Lovely day, isn’t it?

B: I know. (It’s a) Shame we’ve got to work. Shall we go to the park at lunchtime?

A: Sure. (That) Sounds great. But haven’t we got a section meeting at one o’clock?

B: Oh yeah. (We’d) Better leave the park for another day, then, hadn't we? Tomorrow perhaps?

A: (I) Don't think so. (It's) Going to rain all day, apparently.


And here are examples of the initial omission in questions of the auxiliary verbs Are, Do and Have (sometimes including the pronoun you):

(Do) You want to go for a walk?

(Are) You hungry?

(Have you) Finished your essay at last?


To find out about teaching spoken grammar, you are welcome to visit my online course, Spoken Grammar: A Guide for English Language Teachers.