1

A: You probably do that a lot, don't you?

B: I do nothing but!

Does that ellipsis in B's answer sound correct?

6

It may sound a little clipped to a non-native, but there's nothing wrong with it. It's only really eliding one word:

You probably do that a lot, don't you?

I do nothing but [that]!

As the object (that) is obvious from context, it isn't strictly necessary to include it in the sentence and it can be elided safely.

  • 1
    As John Cifford's answer says, you could get away with this, but I wouldn't overuse it. Also, for this construct to work verbally, the exclamation mark is important, and there's a rather heavy emphasis on the last word: “I do nothing but!” (If you emphasized the word nothing instead, the sentence wouldn't sound correct with just the "but" at the end; it would sound like your thought train was interrupted mid-sentence.) – J.R. Apr 23 '16 at 9:59
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Here in this context that but at the end of the sentence might take a NP as ellipsis,like this -

  • I do nothing but (that).

But that is not always the case. Let me quote from Fowler's Modern English Usage -

but at end of sentence -

One of the most surprising and largely uncharted modern uses of but is its occurrence as a qualifying adverb at the end of sentences. Taking a lead from the Scots and the Irish, not-quite-standard speakers in Australia, in some parts of South Africa, and perhaps elsewhere provide evidence of this construction which has not yet entered the standard English of England:

  • 'He should have left the key with me,' she said. 'I'm his wife.' 'I didn't ask for it, but.'-M. Richler, 1980 (Canad.)

  • 'I been waiting round for years and years and I still don't know what it is, but.'-M. Eldridge, 1984 (Aust.)

  • Yes, I told 'im. Not the whole of it, but.'— D. Malouf, 1985 (Aust.);

  • "That was a lovely cat, but' [ = that was a truly lovely cat] — R. Mesthrie, 1987 (SAfr.);

This article provides some more info, and its meaning -

  • contrastive meaning ('though')

  • intensive meaning ('really')

  • in most of the cases, a particle used for interactive reasons to show the other speaker he/she can speak.

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