On the left were the sinks, on the right (were) the stalls.

Can (were) be omitted in the second part of the sentence?

I searched this construction on Google Books. They do add the second were/was:

On the left were the bookcases, and on the right was a perpendicular stone wall.

But since my sentence is short, maybe I can omit the second were? Or maybe I shouldn't?

  • 1
    The second instance of were is a "predictable repetition" within a "parallel syntactic construction", so it can optionally be "deleted". Note that if such a "predictable" element is a verb, native speakers don't care if the actual word "deleted" in the second instance is different becauise of singular/plural forms. So On the left was a man, on the right [were] two women and On the left were two women, on the right [was] a man are both fine, with or without the highlighted word that's being "repeated". Jan 8, 2020 at 15:32

1 Answer 1


Yes, but punctuate it like this:

On the left were the sinks; on the right, the stalls.

The comma I have inserted is a gapping comma to show that words have been omitted instead of repeated - in this case, the word "were" has been omitted.

I've also replaced your comma with a semicolon. This is to fix a comma splice, also called a comma fault - when you join two independent clauses with a comma and no conjunction. Your second example has a conjunction ("and"), so in that example, you could just insert the gapping comma in place of "was".

Some comments have suggested that the semicolon is unnecessary, and in most cases I would agree that it is. As a semicolon is read as a pause in the same way a comma is, most modern English writers just use the comma. However, when the gapping comma is inserted, the two commas could be confusing to a reader as they may not discern as quickly why the second comma is there. Changing it to a semicolon avoids that confusion and makes it obvious that there is a gapping comma. I'm not being dogmatic about this latter point and you can take or leave my advice.

  • 2
    I see nothing wrong with reducing the semicolon to a comma, and discarding your comma completely. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the average tendency in modern writing would be moving towards such "lighter" punctuation. Jan 8, 2020 at 15:40
  • 1
    @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica I agree that the semicolon isn't always mandatory, but the gapping comma is definitely needed if words are omitted. The pause would be there if you spoke it. If someone spoke that sentence without a pause there I would be asking them to repeat themselves. When I wrote it with two commas, it just looked messy. I'm sticking with my answer.
    – Astralbee
    Jan 8, 2020 at 15:44
  • To me also, the semicolon is rare and unnecessary here. Jan 8, 2020 at 15:46
  • @OrbitalAussie I agree, semicolons are increasingly rare. I've added some explanation into my answer as to why I am recommending it here. There are other alternatives - the sentence could just use a conjunction instead.
    – Astralbee
    Jan 8, 2020 at 15:54
  • @Astralbee You suggestion makes sense. But isn't it a bit strange to regard "on the right, the stalls" as an independent clause? (Out of context, there's no way of telling that a "were" was omitted.)
    – alexchenco
    Jan 8, 2020 at 16:04

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