Gapping In Grammar And How To Use It In Your Writing

gapping in grammar

Crossword lovers probably know this clue. A grammar rule that deletes the repetition of verbs. The answer is gapping.

Gapping in grammar means the omission of a verb in the second of two coordinated clauses.

John R. Ross, an American poet, and linguist coined the word around 1970.

Before then, it was probably referred to as a form of ellipsis.

How gapping in grammar works

If you search reference sites to understand gapping, you will likely find many complicated and technical explanations.

For example, Wikipedia states the following: Canonical examples of gapping have a true “gap,” which means the elided material appears medially in the non-initial conjuncts, with a remnant to its left and a remnant to its right.

It’s a very complex way of saying that if you repeat a verb from the first clause in a second clause, you can often delete it.

Here are some simple examples in the classic form. Words with a red strikethrough indicate gapping.

I went to work, and my brother went to school.

John wrote an essay, but his wife wrote a poem.

Jillian wants a new car, and her husband wants a boat.

But you can also use gapping with longer and more complex verb phrases.

Matthew wants to learn how to write a book, and Mary wants to learn how to write a theatre play.

Kathleen has been on a strict diet, and he sister has been on a strict diet too.

Max was sure that what he saw was a UFO, and also his brother was sure that what he saw was a UFO.

 

Other forms of gapping

Gapping in grammar is not restricted to verbs, though. You can use it to avoid other forms of repetition in writing.

These examples delete nouns or an adjective.

Jimmy is my eldest brother, and Tommy, my youngest brother.

There was a ginger cat, a black cat, and a tabby cat. Or: There was a ginger cat, a black cat, and a tabby cat.

I was upset about the result of the game, and David was upset as well.

Judy is so happy about your promotion and your boss is happy too.

You can also use it in questions.

Should I visit you, or should you visit me?

Did you inform Ken about the plans, or did you inform Tim about the plans?

Did Carrie arrive first, or did Karen arrive first?

Has Rory bought more shares than Mark has bought?

 

Mind the gap

If you have traveled by train in the UK, you have probably seen signs or heard the announcement of, mind the gap.

Mind The Gap Victoria Station

It is a warning about the space or gap between the train door and the station platform.

But for grammar, the gap is a space in a sentence where words might have appeared.

In many cases, however, gapping is simply a literary device you can use to avoid repeating words unnecessarily.

So there is no need for you to go hunting for it in your writing immediately. But it is worth keeping in the back of your mind.

You might use it occasionally as a matter of style or change the register of a sentence or phrase. Another use is to help you write more concisely.

But it’s certainly not a golden rule of grammar that you always need to obey.

I would guess that you already use gapping in grammar in your writing, but you didn’t know there was a name for it.

Well, now you know.

Derek Haines

A Cambridge CELTA English teacher and author with a passion for writing and all forms of publishing. My days are spent writing and blogging, as well as testing and taming new technology.

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2 thoughts on “Gapping In Grammar And How To Use It In Your Writing

  • Avatar for Cathy Cade
    August 30, 2021 at 8:46 am
    Permalink

    I didn’t know it was called that. This may be slightly off the subject, but I’ve been wondering about punctuation for omitted words. Should I punctuate as if the missing words were there?

    For instance, the sentence below omits the words ‘It was’ (which, I know, aren’t repeated words, as you describe gapping, so apologies if I’m changing the subject).
    Can I use a semicolon, even though part two isn’t a complete sentence?

    ‘A full moon looked down on the white van in the forest clearing; little more than a pale smudge in the leafy darkness.’
    or…
    ‘A full moon looked down on the white van in the forest clearing, little more than a pale smudge in the leafy darkness.’
    (I know I could put a full stop and add the ‘It was’, but I’m on a tight wordcount here.)

    Reply
    • Avatar for Derek Haines
      August 30, 2021 at 9:30 am
      Permalink

      I think a semicolon is correct because you are using two clauses that are directly related. Using a comma creates a splice, so it is not the right choice.

      Reply

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