Natural English: leave out some words to sound a bit more English

loveToday I’d like to focus on a language feature that is called ‘verb phrase ellipsis’. I think that by incorporating this feature in your everyday English you would sound more like a native and save a few words!

What’s a verb phrase ellipsis?

A: Did you phone Jane?

B: I meant to but then it slipped my mind.

B could have said ‘I meant to phone her but..’, leaving out the bit ‘phone her’ is what we call an ellipsis.

When can we use it?

This particular type of ellipsis which is introduced by ‘to’ can only be used after all those verbs and structures which are followed by to-infinitive. Here are some examples:

  • I mean / meant to.
  • I am / was going to.
  • I am / was about to.
  • I want / wanted to.
  • I would like to.
  • I would love/hate/prefer to.
  • I have / had to.
  • I’m not able to / won’t be able to.

In which situations can we use it?

1. When you’re talking about past intentions which you might want to follow with an excuse (I meant to, I was going to, I was about to, I wanted to):

A: Did you buy milk?

B: I was going to but then I realised I didn’t have money on me.

2. When talking about your preference/opinions in answer to a suggestion/question (I would like to, I would love/hate to):

A: Would you like to come to the cinema?

B: I’d love to!

3. To highlight that you are/were forced to do something (I have / had to):

A: Why did you tell her?

B: We had to!

4. To highlight that you can’t do something:

A: Why don’t you repair the TV?

B: I’m not able to.

Why using it?

Because it’s another way to shorten your sentences and avoid repetition, save your words! And, as usual, it will make you sound more ‘natural’.

Remember: the ellipsis introduced by ‘to’  cannot be used after those modal verbs and all other verbs which usually come before a bare infinitive (infinitive without the ‘to’):

A: Do you want to come to the pub?

B:  I would enjoy to.

In fact, ‘enjoy’ has to be followed by a gerund (ing form).

Hope it makes sense! 🙂
Talk soon,
Deb

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