ellipsis (grammar and rhetoric)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

ellipsis in grammar and rhetoric
Henri Estienne's elliptical proverb.

In grammar and rhetoric, ellipsis is the omission of one or more words, which must be supplied by the listener or reader. Adjective: elliptical or elliptic. Plural, ellipses. Also known as an elliptical expression or elliptical clause.

In her book Developing a Written Voice (1993), Dona Hickey notes that ellipsis encourages readers to "supply what isn't there by stressing heavily what is."

For information and examples related to the mark of punctuation (...), see Ellipsis Points (Punctuation).

See Examples and Observations below.


From the Greek, "to leave out" or "fall short"

Examples and Observations

  • "Vanessa had to leave her children and come running, nurses had to be hired, rest homes interviewed, transport accomplished."
  • "When well used, the ellipsis can create a bond of sorts between the writer and the reader. The writer is saying, in effect, I needn't spell everything out for you; I know you'll understand."
  • "Later, it does not surprise me to find myself in Miss Mey's shiny black car, sharing the back seat with the other lucky ones. Does not surprise me that I thoroughly enjoy the fair."
  • Using Ellipsis Effectively
    "Ellipsis can be an artful and arresting means of securing economy of expression. We must see to it, however, that the understood words are grammatically compatible. If we wrote, 'The ringleader was hanged, and his accomplices imprisoned,' we would be guilty of a solecism because the understood was is not grammatically compatible with the plural subject (accomplices) of the second clause."

Ellipsis in Films

"Leaving out a character's face from the frame [in a scene in a film] is a special case of ellipsis with many applications.

"When the real Hitler arrives for a gala theater night in Warsaw, Ernst Lubitsch never shows his face. We see only his back from his arrival outside to his walking into his theater box, his arm raised in salute, and the standing audience below, or now and then a very long shot. This prevents a minor character from gaining undue weight, as such a historical personage would (To Be or Not to Be)."
(N. Roy Clifton, The Figure in Film. Associated University Presses, 1983)




(Cynthia Ozick, "Mrs. Virginia Woolf: A Madwoman and Her Nurse")

(Martha Kolln, Rhetorical Grammar, 5th ed. Pearson, 2007)

(Edward P.J. Corbett and Robert Connors, Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. Oxford University Press, 1999)