Verb Phrase Ellipsis - The Direction of Ellipsis

The Direction of Ellipsis

VP-ellipsis can be said to operate either forwards or backwards: it operates forwards when the antecedent to the ellipsis precedes the ellipsis (as in the above examples), and backwards when the antecedent follows the ellipsis. It can also be said to operate either upwards or downwards (or neither). It operates upwards when the antecedent appears in a clause that is subordinate to the clause containing the ellipsis, and downwards when the ellipsis appears in a clause subordinate to the clause containing the antecedent. In the above examples, the two clauses are coordinated, so neither is subordinate to the other, and hence the operation of the ellipsis is neither upward nor downward.

Combinations of these directions of operation of ellipsis are illustrated with the following examples:

The people who say they will help never do .
The people who say they will never do help.
The people never do help, who say they will .
*The people never do, who say they will help.

Three of the four combinations are acceptable. However, as the fourth example shows, VP-ellipsis is impossible when it operates both backwards and upwards.

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