Overseeing Omissions in Writing

Sometimes in our writing or speaking we will drop a word or words that are needed for grammatical completeness, but they are still understood when they are left out.

Examples
Do you think [that] she is correct?
His brother and [his] attorney, Chris, will represent him.
I tend to watch football more than [I watch] basketball.

Such sentences will typically be clear to an audience. However, occasionally an omission can cloud the meaning. Ensuring clarity calls for knowing when and when not to withhold words.

The Missing That

The pronoun that can usually be left out before a noun clause with little loss of meaning, as in “Do you think [that] she is correct?” (The noun clause she is correct is the direct object of the main clause do you think.)

However, in certain instances omitting that between a main clause and a noun clause can make them seem to merge, potentially causing confusion about where one concludes and the other begins:

Riley felt my pulse was quicker than usual.

While this expression may still be understood, some audiences might at first interpret the noun phrase my pulse as the object of the first (main) clause rather than the subject of the second (noun) clause that is the object in its entirety. In such a case, one might have to re-read the sentence. For this reason, including that even as a subtle addition separates the clauses for greater precision.

Compound Structures

An omission should not obscure a compound expression (two ideas in a word, a phrase, or a sentence).

Example
My friend and adviser suggested I get more sleep to help lower my stress.

Without a specific person being named, we’re unsure of whether my friend and adviser comprises one person or two.

If we are referring to one person, a better sentence would be My friend advised me to get more sleep to lower my stress. If we mean two people, we would write My friend and my adviser suggested I get more sleep to lower my stress.(To remove all doubt, this statement could further be written as My friend along with my adviser suggested …)

Misapplied omission also can lead to unfinished—and ungrammatical—compound structures.

Incomplete: He has not and never will be one to get frustrated.
Complete: He has not been and never will be one to get frustrated.

Incomplete: The revisions neither subtract nor add to the proposal’s main points.
Complete: The revisions neither subtract from nor add to the proposal’s main points.

Unclear Comparisons

Omission commonly appears in comparisons. We would be correct in believing an audience would understand comparison sentences such as:

This problem is as challenging as that one [is challenging].
The air is more humid this month than [it was] last [month].

When comparisons include words such as than or as, however, some omissions can leave readers uncertain about which word or words are missing. In these sentences, we should determine our intended meaning and include all words needed to achieve it.

Vague Sentence: The Turners visit the museum more than the Tylers.
Clear Meaning 1: The Turners visit the museum more than they visit the Tylers.
Clear Meaning 2: The Turners visit the museum more than the Tylers do.

Similarly, omitting the word other in than or as clauses also can cause something to be illogically compared to itself:

The Burj Khalifa is taller than any building.

Omitting other in this example would suggest that the Burj Khalifa is not or might not be a building. A clearer sentence would be The Burj Khalifa is taller than any other building.

When done with thought and care, leaving certain words out can offer our writing both brevity and technique. We just want to make sure we’re not also making our readers feel left out of the best of our thoughts.

 

Pop Quiz

Using what you’ve learned in this article, choose the sentence that makes the best use of omission in each pair.

1a. Rob thinks Ryanna is smart.
1b. Rob finds her approach reaps results.

2a. His boss and best friend loaned him money.
2b. His boss and his best friend loaned him money.

3a. Sheila plays with friends more than Tanika.
3b. Sheila plays with friends more than Tanika does.

4a. The Giants are craftier than any baseball team.
4b. The Giants are craftier than any other baseball team.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

Correct answers appear in bold type.

1a. Rob thinks Ryanna is smart. (Omitting that does not create any confusion over where the main clause ends and the objective noun clause begins; omitting that in 1b can result in such confusion.)
1b. Rob finds her approach reaps results.

2a. His boss and best friend loaned him money.
2b. His boss and his best friend loaned him money. (Because the sentence is in the past tense, 2b more clearly conveys whether the boss and the friend are one person or two.)

3a. Sheila plays with friends more than Tanika.
3b. Sheila plays with friends more than Tanika does. (This sentence has one clear meaning while 3a is open to different interpretations.)

4a. The Giants are craftier than any baseball team.
4b. The Giants are craftier than any other baseball team. (4a leaves open the possibility that the Giants could be something other than a baseball team.)

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