The following is a CNN trascript. Is something missing in the boldfaced part?

I'm here in Taiwan. On a small island sitting surprisingly close to that bustling metropolis behind me, less than four miles of water.

  • It's an example of situational elipisis, a from of omission which is very common in informal spoken English. The speaker means something like "[There's] less than four miles of water [between them]". This is possible because the intended meaning is clear from the context, as the speaker is clearly talking about the distance between the city and the island, and there's basically no need to repeat what is obvious.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jun 13, 2023 at 8:52

1 Answer 1


Natural spoken English, similar to any other language when naturally spoken, does not necessarily follow all the rules of written or formal grammar. Entire clauses might be dropped, rearranged, implied, or all of the above at once. For native listeners, this presents no problem in understanding, but learners may find these omissions and rearrangements confusing, such as in this example.

In written or formal English, this sentence would simply be grammatically incorrect. The intention, however, would be something akin to the following sentence:

I'm here on a small island that is part of Taiwan and surprisingly close to that bustling metropolis behind me. There are less than four miles of water separating me from that metropolis.

I've italicized the most relevant parts I had to add to increase clarity for your bolded section.

The key to understanding the speaker lies in the words "surprisingly close". This gives us the context to what "less than four miles of water" could be referring to, namely that we are describing what "surprisingly close" means. We also know that the distance of water he is referring to is horizontal, not depth, because the context is about the distance to "that bustling metropolis behind me".

  • Thank you. Could the bolded part be short for "which is less than four miles of water away"? Or simply "less than four miles of water away"?
    – Apollyon
    Jun 13, 2023 at 6:13
  • 1
    Yes, either of those options would also work. Jun 13, 2023 at 6:15

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