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Elliptical Sentences

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An elliptical sentence does not mean a sentence with an ellipsis in it. An ellipsis is three periods, symbolizing missing information. This form most often appears when using only part of a direct quote.

An elliptical sentence refers to sentences with information missing. This form does not require an ellipsis. These sentences are grammatically correct only if the necessary information to understand the sentence has been supplied previously or is clear from the context of the sentence. As you will see from the examples below, written English would look quite strange if every elliptical sentence had an ellipsis in it.

Writing Flashcard answers in elliptical form allows grammatically correct sentences with fewer words for more simplicity. If the Flashcard project did not use elliptical sentences, the question and answer would look like this:

Is the half-life of a drug affected by its rate of absorption?   Yes, the half-life of a drug is affected by its rate of absorption.

The elliptical form of this answer is simply: "Yes." Although by itself "Yes" would not normally be a sentence, the context makes the meaning clear and hence creates a grammatically correct sentence. This is the simplest form of elliptical sentence the Flashcard project uses.

Other forms frequently appear: 

Question: What is a synthesis reaction?  

Non-elliptical answer: A synthesis reaction is a reaction that combines two or more reactants to form a more complex product.

Elliptical answer: A reaction that combines two or more reactants to form a more complex product.

The answer does not require the words "A synthesis reaction" to start the sentence because the question contains that information.

The same format applies to definition answers.

Question: What does intracellular mean?
Non-elliptical answer: Intracellular means within a cell.

Elliptical answer: Within a cell.

Question: What does permeable mean?

Non-elliptical answer: Permeable means permitting the passage of a substance.

Elliptical answer: Permitting the passage of a substance.

Elliptical sentences in questions

Elliptical sentences can appear in many forms in literature, essays, articles, etc. In many of these cases, elliptical sentences work fine. For purposes of Flashcards, however, elliptical sentences can change the meaning of a question. As a general rule, avoid elliptical sentences when writing questions and ensure that all the necessary information goes into the sentence. Consider how the following question looks:

A ______ is a substance, usually a liquid, that dissolves or that is
capable of dissolving.

The answer should actually be "solute." Although solutes may not usually be liquids, as the question specifies, the question leaves out information in an elliptical fashion. If the answer is "solvent," the question should read:

A _______ is a substance, usually a liquid that dissolves something else.

If the answer is "solute" the question should read:

A _______ is a substance that dissolves in something else.

The key to this question is whether the substance dissolves in something or dissolves something else. Leaving out this information creates a vague question with more than one answer. Additionally, it is not truly an elliptical sentence because it does not refer to previously supplied information.

Again, err on the side of caution in the case of writing questions. It is less of a problem to have a wordy question than a vague question.

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