Ellipsis: when shorter is better

      Comments Off on Ellipsis: when shorter is better
If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it:

Gemma writes:

 Hi. I am teaching ellipsis to a group of students and I think I’ve confused myself!
The long sentence is:
How could their petition receive so many more signatures than our petition received?
Would that be shortened to:
How could their petition receive so many more signatures than our? OR:
How could their petition receive so many more signatures than ours?
I suspect it’s the second option, but why?
Help! I think I’ve been staring at this for too long now…

Let’s start by talking about ellipsis. What’s Gemma’s asking about is an action, shortening a sentence by replacing a noun phrase with a pronoun. But notice that she also uses three dots trailing her question. That’s the physical representation of something missing in a quotation. Here’s a blog post on ellipsis usage in academic writing.

Gemma is correct in the use of “ours.” We replace the noun phrase “our petition received”, with the possessive pronoun “ours.”

The confusion arises because we sometimes lump all types of pronouns together. However, there are two types of pronouns. Let’s call them regular pronouns and possessive pronouns. Possessive pronouns are words like “my”, “your”, and “his/hers” that show possession or ownership of a noun. (Because they describe a noun, they are really not possessive pronouns, but possessive adjectives.) But because they require a noun, they don’t replace a noun.

On the other hand, “mine”, “yours” and “ours” are actually pronouns. They replace the noun or noun phrase. Therefore, you can say “John’s car is nicer than ours”. (Notice the format: possessive noun + noun + verb + preposition + possessive pronoun.)

Also notice the use of the apostrophe. The only word in the sample sentence above that uses an apostrophe is the possessive noun. Possessive adjectives NEVER take an apostrophe. Pronouns NEVER take an apostrophe.