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I have a sentence similar to this one that I am working on:

A survey showed that 75% of the respondents used both mobile and desktop applications, 20% used only mobile applications, and 5% used only desktop applications.

I know that there is something to be done with the repeated "only" and "applications", but my questions is: can I somehow use ellipsis / dashes to omit the verb altogether without having to use synonyms?

I mean I could write, "used... preferred... chose...", but I am more interested in a "grammar approach" here. My native language is Russian, and in Russian you can just use a dash to omit the repeated part:

A survey showed that 75% of the respondents used both mobile and desktop applications, 20% — only mobile applications, and 5% — only desktop applications.

So far, I have found some quiz questions about Emily Dickinson using dashes to avoid repetition, but it seems like this is an exception.

3 Answers 3

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What you are looking for is a technique called "gapping". There are pages that talk about how to use a comma to elide a verb in a list, e.g., Canada's translation guidelines. You can elide a verb with no comma as well if the elision can be unambiguously understood.

The first sentence on this page seems to be what you are after:

A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.

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This is how I’d write your example:

A survey showed that 75% of the respondents used both mobile and desktop applications, 20% only mobile, and 5% only desktop.

Note that I kept both “only”s because they contrast with the “both” in the first list item. You should only elide elements that are common to all list items (“of the respondents used ... applications”).

Use of dashes as placeholders may have been a thing in the past, but we don’t bother today in the case of list ellipsis because the meaning is clear enough without them—at least if you do it right.

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You could write just:

A survey showed that 75% of the respondents used both mobile and desktop applications, 20% only mobile applications, and 5% only desktop applications.

The dashes are not needed and in this construction are more confusing than help-ful. The repeated verb is implied. However, you are only saving two uses of the word "used", not a huge gain.

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