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Monday, June 1, 2015

Week 22 Use Ellipses to Compress Your Sentences

WEEK 22 Use Ellipses to Compress Your Sentences

by Tamara Passey

It's no secret that the exclamation point is overused. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, 
Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.
But what if a writer wants or needs to add emphasis to a sentence? What other options are there?
Stephen Wilbers explains,
"To compress a sentence is to make it stronger, and using an ellipsis is a good way to compress." 1  
Now wait, a few definitions are in order. We are familiar with ellipses (plural of ellipsis) as they refer to the three dots that are commonly used to show three things in writing: omitted text, a thoughtful pause, and a trailing off of thought. But did you know ellipsis has another meaning?  Well of course you did ... I'm always the last to know, just ask my teenagers. Ok, back to another definition of ellipsis.

"In the linguistic sense, an ellipsis is an omitted word or phrase that functions in the subtext." 2
Did you catch that? No dots, exactly, but an omitted word or phrase. This is where an example or two come in handy.

"Silas wrote the first draft, Myrna wrote the second, and Ezekiel wrote the third. In that sentence, the word draft appears only in the first clause, but it functions in all three." 3

I know I'm a word nerd, but I LOVE this. It gets better.

The sentence can be compressed even more. "Silas wrote the first report, Myrna the second, and Ezekiel the third." So the words wrote and draft are dropped but you can still hear them in your head as your read the sentence. Even though they aren't on the page, they function in your mind. So. Cool.

Another example of emphasis: Mark Twain wrote, " 'As a matter of fact' precedes many a statement that isn't." (See how your mind doesn't need the phrase [a matter of fact] tacked onto the end of that sentence.

There you have it. Add emphasis, not by wearing out the SHIFT + 1 keys on your keyboard, but by omitting words that your brain, and your readers' brains, will think anyway. Brilliant.

1. Mastering the Craft, Wilbers, p. 122
2. MTC, Wilbers, p. 122
3. MTC, Wilbers, p. 122

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