Cases Where We Leave Out Words

We often leave out words to avoid repetition. Words are also left out in cases where the meaning can be understood without them. This is called ‘ellipsis’.


In replies we do not usually repeat information that has just been given.

  • ‘Who broke the window?’ ‘John.’ (More natural than ‘John broke the window’)
  • ‘What time does her train arrive?’ ‘About six.’ (More natural than ‘Her train arrives at about six.’)
  • ‘How many eggs do you need?’ ‘Six.’ (More natural than ‘I need six eggs.’)

Structures with and, but and or

Repeated words are often left out in co-ordinate structures.

  • The rope was thin but strong. (= The rope was thin but it was strong.)
  • You can have tea or coffee. (= You can have tea or you can have coffee.)

Informal speech

In informal speech, we often drop unstressed words at the beginning of a clause.

  • ‘Seen Mary?’ (= Have you seen Mary?’)
  • Doesn’t know what she is doing. (= She doesn’t know what she is doing.)

At the end of noun phrases

In some cases it is possible to drop nouns after adjectives, noun modifiers and determiners.

  • ‘My car isn’t working.’ ‘I will have to borrow John’s. (= John’s car)
  • ‘Do you want brown rice?’ ‘No, I will have white.’ (= white rice)


Sometimes we use to instead of repeating a whole infinitive.

  • ‘Are you and John getting married?’ ‘We hope to.’ (= We hope to get married.)

In comparative structures

Words are often left out after as and than, when the meaning is clear.

  • I don’t earn as much as you. (= …as you do.)
  • Sales aren’t as good as last year. (= Sales aren’t as good as they were last year.)

Question word clauses

Clauses can be dropped after question words.

  • ‘Somebody has broken my window again, but I don’t know who.’ ( = … but I don’t know who has broken my window again.)

That and relative pronouns

In an informal style, the conjunction that is often dropped.

  • She said she would come. OR She said that she would come.
  • I knew he was cheating on me. OR I knew that he was cheating on me.

Manjusha Nambiar

Hi, I am Manjusha. This is my blog where I give English grammar lessons and worksheets.

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