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If the word is omitted through the grammar, should the meaning of the word be omitted together?

For example, I saw James working out as (he did) before.

You see there disappeared ‘he did’ between ‘as’ and ‘before.’ Then the meaning of ‘he did’ disappeared together?

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    Yes, the new sentence is ambiguous because 'as before' might refer to 'I saw'. Nov 17, 2021 at 12:36
  • If you omit working out as he did before, then you're left with I saw James, which definitely removes some meaning from the sentence. But generally, if you're studying English and someone tells you you can omit a certain word in the sentence, it's implied that you can do so without changing the meaning (eg. If it's possible -> If possible). Nov 17, 2021 at 13:03
  • What @MichaelHarvey said (and Maciej! :) But I think that if there's nothing at all between as and before, the only possible interpretations are as he worked out before OR as I saw before. You can't infer meanings like as I worked out before, or as you saw / worked out before. Nov 17, 2021 at 13:10
  • @Michael Harvey Hi Michael, if something is omitted, another words get an extra meaning, or just something omitted is inferred?
    – Jennifer
    Nov 18, 2021 at 9:27

2 Answers 2

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Sometimes a word that is omitted can be deduced. For example in parallel constructions:

John went for a walk, but Mary didn't.

In this construction the words "go for a walk" have been omitted. But their meaning can be deduced. The sentence means "... but Mary didn't go for a walk."

But in general, omitted words can't be deduced.

John went for a walk.

Here I have omitted the words "to the shops". You can't deduce this from the words I said. So the meaning of "to the shops." is omitted completely.

I hope you can see how the two examples are different.

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  • Then it has no actual meaning but the meaning is implied?
    – Jennifer
    Nov 17, 2021 at 22:16
  • I mean the literal meaning.
    – Jennifer
    Nov 17, 2021 at 22:22
  • In the first case, the meaning "Mary didn't go for a walk" is literal. It is implied by the syntax. In the second, the omitted words can't be deduced. The sentence "John went for a walk" does not imply that he went to the shops.
    – James K
    Nov 17, 2021 at 22:51
  • Can I ask something? If ‘go for a walk’ is omitted, then ‘Mary didn’t’ gets an extra meaning, or just suggests that?
    – Jennifer
    Nov 18, 2021 at 9:25
  • I mean ‘Mary didn’t’ get a new meaning that Mary didn’t go for a walk or just ‘Mary didn’t’ suggests that Mary didn’t?
    – Jennifer
    Nov 19, 2021 at 0:50
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Most often, omitting qualifiers like this leads to ambiguity, rather than changing the meaning, since the listener doesn't know what you omitted.

So:

I saw James working out as before.

Could be:

I saw James working out as he worked out before.

Or:

I saw James working out as I saw him before.

You have to decide if your listener is likely to guess the correct version, or whether you need to be more specific.

I don't think it makes sense to say it "removes the meaning" - the "as before" still tells the listener that it cannot mean:

I saw James working out for the first time

Obviously if you remove enough, then the sentence has so many possibilities that you are no longer communicating the same thing:

I saw James

This includes all the previous possibilities, but the listener has no hope of guessing the details you've missed out.

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