Missing the verb

Aaron Toivo writes to report writing errors in which a main verb is omitted. These aren’t cases of verb ellipsis constructions (like Gapping or Pseudogapping), but of inadvertent errors in which the writer “skips ahead” in a sentence.

The omitted verbs are usually ones that are pretty predictable in context — which makes the examples hard for a reader to catch. In several cases, in fact, I didn’t notice the omission on a first reading and had to go back and read the sentences word by word to see the problem.

For some of the examples, to see what’s going on you’d need more context than Toivo gives, or some information about the writer’s intentions. But here are some reasonably clear examples:

<jlyne> can you me on my cell when you get into the office?
— quoting an email from her boss, date unrecorded [presumably “call me”]

<jlyne> she decided
<jlyne> that she lost her appetite because of the show
<jlyne> and didn’t it
— in IRC, 12/21/09 (she’d meant to say “and didn’t eat it”)

<Mecislau> Pfft. If /I/ managed to it by hand, so can Neek.
— in IRC, date unrecorded [presumably “do it”]

When my brother and I were younger this was to prevent us from having at the stockings and gifts beneath the tree before our parents arose, although we have not very observant for quite a few years now and usually only make a limited, ceremonial observance of that tradition.
— by Delthayre, posted to the Zompist Bulletin Board, 12/23/09 (“we have not very observant”)

Since you already clients maybe you don’t need to stay there.
— by THC, posted to the Zompist Bulletin Board, 12/30/09 [presumably “already have clients”]

They said that that would easy and a non issue, they told him I would be glad to get rid of the complexity.
— by MariekeFJ, posted to the MacRumors forums, 12/28/09 [“that would be easy”]

Toivo suggests that other parts of speech are omitted much less often than verbs are, but it’s hard to check this out, since you’d need to assess just how often different parts of speech occur in contexts where you could detect inadvertent omission. And you’d need to exclude not only ellipsis constructions that are general in English but also ellipses that are variable, being characteristic of certain dialects (for instance, “transitivizing P drop“, as in British “They agreed a draft constitution”) or of colloquial English (for instance, subject omission, as in informal “Saw Kim yesterday”).

Further examples of inadvertent main verb omission would be welcome, especially if you have information about the writer’s intention.

One Response to “Missing the verb”

  1. arnoldzwicky Says:

    Addendum from Toivo, passing on a suggestion from Mecislau: Try googling “it will (ADJ)” or “that would (ADJ)” to see tons of examples of copula dropping.

    Things like “It will amazing” and “That would awesome”. It’s possible, however, that these omissions aren’t inadvertent, but have been conventionalized in certain on-line contexts.

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