Verbs are sometimes omitted when they are repeated, aren't they?

ex) There are two roses on the table; one is red and the other yellow.

Is it possible to say "Tom likes cats, and Mary dogs."?

  • It is allowed here ONLY because the two clauses have an "and" between them (they are co-ordinated). You can do this when a) the two clauses have a coordinating conjunction like and, but, or and b) the subjects of the clauses are different and c) there are more words after the verb and that information is also different. Otherwise you can't do it! It is called "gapping". No one really refers to it as ellipsis very much. Mar 24, 2022 at 23:12

4 Answers 4


It is possible to say or write:

Tom likes cats, and Mary dogs.

Omitting the same word to avoid repetition is an example of ellipsis.


from English Grammar Today

Ellipsis happens when we leave out (in other words, when we don’t use) items which we would normally expect to use in a sentence if we followed the grammatical rules. The following examples show ellipsis. The items left out are in brackets [ ]:

I am absolutely sure [that] I have met her somewhere before.

[Have you] Seen my gloves anywhere?

She sang and [she] played the violin at the same time.

[Are] You ready yet? Yes. [I’m] Ready now. [I’m] Sorry to keep you waiting.

Ellipsis (grammar) (Cambridge Dictionary)

Note also that the term 'ellipsis' is also used for a type of punctuation (three dots. . .) used when something is omitted for the sake of clarity or because it is less relevant:

Full quotation: "Today, after hours of careful thought, we vetoed the bill."

With ellipsis: "Today … we vetoed the bill."

Whether to separate the dots, and an ellipsis from the surrounding text, with spaces, is a matter of style.

Ellipsis (punctuation)

  • Notice that the kind of coordinate gapping that occurs in the OP's sentence is not covered in the dictionary examples and is an unusual form of ellipsis. Mar 24, 2022 at 23:07

In speech this type of ellipsis (sometimes referred to as whiz deletion by linguists e.g. Tom likes cats and Mary who is his friend, likes dogs) is extremely common. The second sentence is perfectly fine, slightly less so in writing unless it represents dialogue.

The OP's first sentence has the same subject (one [rose]) in the subordinate clause while the second sentence has two different subjects (Tom and Mary). In isolation "...Mary dogs" does not make any sense, so I'd prefer to write:

"...but Mary prefers/likes dogs."

In speech "Tom likes cats but Mary dogs." sounds very natural.

  • 1
    But the sentence contains no wh word, so whiz deletion is irrelevant.
    – Lambie
    Mar 24, 2022 at 14:27
  • @Lambie as I see it, the Wh-word is "who" and the sentence doesn't contain a wh-word because the relative clause e.g. who lives down the lane, is non-essential to the message.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 24, 2022 at 15:04
  • 1
    The question sentence did not contain that. It was: "Tom likes cats, and Mary dogs." There is no whiz deletion at all, even implied.
    – Lambie
    Mar 24, 2022 at 15:13
  • @Lambie I conceded that perhaps the example stretched a little too far. It's the first time I have mentioned "whiz deletion" in any of my posts, but I don't think it is a bad thing to bring it to the OP's attention.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 24, 2022 at 15:19
  • 1
    That's fine so why not say so right away? Instead of prolonging a discussion? It's interesting, sure. :)
    – Lambie
    Mar 24, 2022 at 15:22

Yes, "Tom likes cats" and "Mary likes dogs" have parallel structure, and omitting words in parallel is often allowed. How much can be done with readability maintained depends on context and remaining redundancy. In some cases, even further ellipsis can be done, such as "Tom likes cats; Mary, dogs."


This is a figure of speech called zeugma.

Vicit pudorem libido timorem audacia rationem amentia.
(“Lust conquered shame; audacity, fear; madness, reason.”)
— Cicero, Pro Cluentio)

  • The definition you link says a zeugma is "a figure of speech...blending together grammatically and logically different ideas." Saying that one person likes cats and another likes dogs is a statement, not a figure of speech. That statement does not blend together different ideas. "John lost his coat and his temper." is an example of zeugma. "John lost his coat and his hat." is not.
    – ColleenV
    Mar 24, 2022 at 18:49
  • The page you've linked to describes exactly this kind of construction as syllepsis, not zeugma. I don't think you should link to a page, without actually reading it first. Mar 24, 2022 at 19:18
  • @DawoodibnKareem Syllepsis, the use of a word to modify or govern syntactically two or more words with only one of which it formally agrees in gender, number, or case isn't correct either. "Tom likes cats, and Mary likes dogs." there's no disagreement there. The linked page says (of syllepsis) For example, in the sentence, “They saw lots of thunder and lightning,” the verb “saw” is logically correct only for the lightning, as thunder is “heard.” This is just plain old ellipsis.
    – ColleenV
    Mar 24, 2022 at 20:54
  • @ColleenV You're right. My mistake. Mar 24, 2022 at 21:11
  • @ColleenV Different sources regard “zeugma” and “syllepsis” differently. The majority seems to be a zeugma is the general yoking, and a syllepsis is doing it wrongly. “You held the door and your breath for me.” Mar 25, 2022 at 1:15

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