Good usage does not demand that all sentences shall be absolutely complete. It often allows (and sometimes requires) the omission of words that, though necessary to the construction, are so easily supplied by the mind that it would be mere waste of time to utter them.
The omission of a word or words necessary to the grammatical completeness of a clause or sentence is called ellipsis.
A clause or sentence that shows ellipsis is said to be elliptical.
Ellipsis is a Greek word meaning omission.
In the following examples the omitted words are supplied in brackets.
[I] thank you.
[I] pray do not [you] move.
[You] pass me that book.
Her hair is light, her eyes [are] dark blue.
Some of the strangers spoke French, others [spoke] Spanish.
Some of the patriots were armed with old flintlocks, others [were armed] with swords, still others [were armed] with pitchforks.
When [he was] a youth, he travelled in the East.
Though [he is] timid, he is no coward.
They were amused, though [they were] somewhat vexed.
While [we were] drifting downstream, we grounded on a sand bar.
If [it is] possible, send me word to-night.
You shall have the money this week, if [it is] necessary.
They marched slowly as if [they were] worn out.
Why [are] these tears?
Why [are you] so dejected?
He was ten years of age, his brother [was] eight [years of age].
I have more confidence in James than [I have] in Edmund.
Mary is younger than George [is young].
Tom likes you better than [he likes] me.
You like him better than I do [like him].
I like him better than Charles does [like him].
This racket is not so heavy as that [is heavy].
You are not so old as I [am old].
Peace [be] to his memory!
This is the only pencil [that] I have.
Is that the boy [whom] you hired yesterday?
They say [that] you are going to Europe soon.
These examples show that most cases of ellipsis fall under two heads.
1. To avoid repetition, words are often omitted in one part of the sentence when they occur in another part.
2. Pronouns, the conjunction that and some forms of the verb is are often omitted when they are readily supplied.
Under the second head come (1) the ellipsis of the subject (thou or you) in imperative sentences (2) that of relative pronouns in the objective case (3) that of is, are, etc. (with the subject pronoun) in subordinate clauses introduced by when, though, if, and the like.
NOTE : The so-called telegraphic style omits I with any verb or with all verbs. It should be confined to telegrams, where space is money.
Adverbs indicating direction (like forward, back) are often used without a verb in imperative sentences.
• Forward, brave companions!
• Down on your knees!
• Up, guards, and at them!
NOTE : In older English, the omission of the verb of motion was common, even in sentences not imperative, as in the following examples from Julius Cæsar.....
We’ll along ourselves and meet them.
Shall we on and not depend on you?
The ellipsis of the subordinate conjunction that is very common, especially in indirect discourse.
• I know [that] you are my friend.
• Jack said [that] the boat had sunk.
• He told me [that] he was sorry.
Many constructions, originally elliptical, have become established idioms in which no ellipsis is felt. In such cases it is usually better to take the sentence as it stands and not to supply the omitted words.
Thus, in “He eats as if he were famished" the italicized words are properly treated as a subordinate clause modifying eats and introduced by the compound conjunction as if. Yet in strictness this construction is an ellipsis for “He eats as [he would eat] if he were famished."
Various ellipses are illustrated in the following sentences.
Although in a friendly country, they marched always as if in a land of enemies.
The aspect of the country was as wild and dreary as the climate.
Do not serious and earnest men discuss Hamlet as they would Cromwell or Lincoln?—LOWELL
Not so with the others.
Though rather shy and distrustful of this new acquaintance, Rip complied with his usual alacrity.
Arras was famed for its rich tapestries, Brussels for its carpets, Cambrai for its fine cambric, Lisle for its thread and the fabrics woven from it.
Every day brings its task, which, if neglected, is doubled on the morrow.
It is not easy to recover an art when once lost.
I wish you would go down with me to Newstead.
The men are all soldiers, and war and the chase their sole occupation.
While in this state of irresolution, she was startled by a low knock.
The house was tall, the skylight small and dirty, the day blind with fog.
I little thought you would have deserted me.
He is the best Oriental scholar I know.
Cromwell was evidently laying, though in an irregular manner, the foundations of an admirable system.