In the following sentence, "must" has no following verb. This kind of ellipsis seems strange to me, as the omitted verb is expected to be in the sentence. Is this use common, or restricted to certain constructions?

It has also become clear to me, from discussion of this issue in online editorial forums—or fora, if you really, absolutely must—that some people interpret the "it" as the object of the verb "suffice."

  • I think people can omit, if need(s) be, the main verb after auxiliaries: A: You must go there right away. B: Should I? A: Yes, you should.
    – Brandon
    Feb 7 at 4:45
  • Your example is quite different. The "should" actually implies the main verb phrase "go there right away."
    – Apollyon
    Feb 7 at 4:46
  • 'must' is an auxiliary verb. The principle is the same. A: If you must, you can. The context transmits information.
    – Brandon
    Feb 7 at 4:49
  • 1
    Do you really understand the issue at all? If an auxiliary is not followed by a verb, that verb must be somewhere in the context. But in the present situation, there is no such verb.
    – Apollyon
    Feb 7 at 4:53
  • Here's the wider context: jeremybutterfield.wordpress.com/2016/07/01/… See if you can find out the missing verb.
    – Apollyon
    Feb 7 at 4:57

The implied clause after must can be expressed approximately: If you must [insist on using "fora", the latinate plural of "forums"].

In other words, if you must be that pedantic.

Really, absolutely is double intensification of must; that is, if there is no other option.

  • Is that kind of verb omission considered sloppy?
    – Apollyon
    Feb 7 at 6:44
  • No. For one thing, it's dialogue, and both parties know what is being referred to. It just a slightly more intense expression of "...or ,if you prefer, fora". Feb 7 at 7:31
  • It's not a dialogue, but part of an essay.
    – Apollyon
    Feb 7 at 7:33
  • Any similar examples from legitimate sources?
    – Apollyon
    Feb 7 at 7:42
  • 1
    @Apollyon It's a compact context, all in a six-word parenthetical phrase with no syntactic link to the the rest of the sentence, that makes the sense instantly apparent to native readers. Feb 7 at 16:22

It is restricted to certain constructions.

You can go if you absolutely must. (conditional)

Try as he might, he failed. (idiomatic)

If I could, I would tell you. But I can't, so I won't. (yes/no; conditional)

If I could go home, I would. (conditional)

How dare you lie to me! I knew you would! (ellipsis)

Can you swim? --Yes, I can. (yes/no short form)

I would like to say something, if I may. (formal; a polite expression)

If I may, could you please repeat that? (formal; a polite expression)

Please help us if you can. (conditional)

Can I go home now? --No, you can not! (yes/no short form; emphatic)

  • Actually, except for the "if I may, could you . .. " sentence, all of your examples are ordinary, in the sense that the auxiliaries have antecedent verb phrases. For example, "You can go if you absolutely must" means "You can go if you absolutely must (go)." "If I could, I would tell you. But I can't, so I won't" means "If I could (tell you), I would tell you. But I can't (tell you), so I won't (tell you)."
    – Apollyon
    Feb 7 at 14:39
  • But thanks for the "If I may, could you please repeat that?" example.
    – Apollyon
    Feb 7 at 14:44
  • Sure. The similarities are evident.
    – Patriot
    Feb 7 at 14:47
  • "Try as he might" is also interesting because it is idiomatic. There is also "try as you may."
    – Patriot
    Feb 7 at 14:48
  • What is understood and omitted in "If I may, could you please repeat that"? If I may ask a favor?
    – Apollyon
    Feb 7 at 14:58

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