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When chatting informally, either in person or over text, it seems common to shorten the sentences by omitting pronouns:

- Made it home?

- Yeah. Should've taken a bus.

- Hope you don't catch a cold!

However, in some cases it sounds unnatural, even if the pronoun is heavily implied:

- *Closed the door?

- *Didn't.

- *Should close it.

Are there any rules as to when one can and cannot shorten their sentences in this way, or does it boil down to some phrases just being more idiomatic than others?

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  • There are no rules. Your second conversation would probably be Door's locked? When asking whether someone wants the door closed: (Shall I) Close the door? or (Shall I) Leave it open?
    – TimR
    Jul 26, 2018 at 11:32
  • Look up the terms "pronoun drop" and "diary drop" - you will probably find some useful information there.
    – stangdon
    Jul 26, 2018 at 12:14

1 Answer 1

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This is called "conversational deletion" and you can read all about it on our sister site, English Language & Usage, where member John Lawler says:

In general, exposed first-person subjects are vulnerable in statements, and second-person in questions, and any exposed pronoun is vulnerable if it is recoverable from later in the sentence.

Meaning that where the subject of a sentence is clear, it is frequently omitted in conversation.

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    I like that bit about ...if it is recoverable from later in the sentence. I don't agree with OP in the first place that "pronounless" Locked the door? is inherently unnatural, but I'd certainly accept that in practice, Lock[ed] the door, did you? is more likely. Jul 26, 2018 at 13:32
  • @FumbleFingers But you can pretty much always do that with a tag question, can't you? Anyway, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language by Huddleston, Pullum, et al. (2002) classifies the phenomenon as simply ellipsis (Further cases of ellipsis) on pp.1540–3.
    – user3395
    Jul 26, 2018 at 13:41
  • @userr2684291: But can pretty much always do that with a tag question, can't you? No - I don't think my pronounless version of your first sentence above would be idiomatically acceptable to any native speaker. Not sure exactly why though - it's certainly not that you can't delete second-person in the context of a "modal, auxiliary" verb like can, because there's nothing remotely unusual about Can't wait, can you?. But there's something weird involving negation there, because we wouldn't do that deletion in You can wait, can't you? Jul 26, 2018 at 14:03
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    @userr2684291: Bear in mind that as a native speaker I don't need to consult CEGL to know what's idiomatic and what's not. But whereas I know perfectly well that Can wait, can't you? would be an extremely unlikely "deletion", even though the "opposite, non-negated" version is common, I can't say anything you've just written sheds any light on why that should be so. Jul 26, 2018 at 15:19
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    The question isn't about the phenomenon per se; it's about why it happens sometimes and not others, even when the "vulnerability" would appear to be the same. I would agree with OP that Closed the door? is not nearly as likely as Made it home?
    – TimR
    Jul 26, 2018 at 15:20

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