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In an article in The Economist, I have observed the following sentence:

The less positive point out that human rights are routinely abused, freedom of speech is restricted and corruption endemic.

Clearly the following modification is unacceptable:

The less positive point out corruption endemic.

Can someone explain why the first sentence is acceptable but the second is not? Is there a theory that describes when this kind of elision is acceptable? Is there a name for this phenomenon?

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The second (hypothetical) is not a sentence. –  Kris Mar 26 '13 at 6:22

3 Answers 3

It's a more common construction in older languages, I think - I know Latin and Ancient Egyptian are particularly fond of shared/implied verbs - but it definitely works in English as well. Although, as Landsberg points out,

"The less positive point out that human rights abuse is rampant, freedom of speech restricted, and corruption endemic."

is cleaner, I disagree that the way the sentence is written is incorrect. Because the author chose to use the plural 'human rights are routinely abused,' he only shares the 'is' amongst the last two elements, which do indeed use parallel construction to imply the verb across the two clauses.

He is right, though, that your second option fails because it has no verb at all.

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The second sentence has no verb at all. You can't really get anywhere that way.

The first sentence is, however, not properly constructed. It attempts to elide "is" via parallel construction, but note that the structure is not exactly parallel. The main body of the sentence uses a plural form of "to be," but the second two items in the list (freedom of speech, and corruption) are singular, so the parallel is disrupted. Furthermore, there is a comma missing before "and," so the list is improperly constructed.

A properly constructed version of this sentence, utilizing the elision, might read, "The less positive point out that human rights abuse is rampant, freedom of speech restricted, and corruption endemic." (It's a fairly awkward construction, though, if you ask me.)

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The Oxford comma is furiously debated, but you really can't call it compulsory. –  TimLymington Apr 8 '13 at 17:27
    
@TimLymington I agree with that, Tim, and I wasn't saying it was compulsory. I was saying that the first sentence is an example of the need for a comma before "and" to ensure clarity. When I see is restricted and, I am ready for the next word after and to be another adjective ("X is restricted and heavy"). Trask does discuss such instances, and I agree with his feeling that a comma here is appropriate to enhance clarity. –  John M. Landsberg Apr 9 '13 at 23:32

That construction exists in french as well, and with other verbs. Although it's a bit old-fashioned. E.g. in the famous sentence "Le presbytère n'a rien perdu de son charme ni le jardin de son attraît". What happens here is that you have a single verb that applies to a collection of "name/attribute" pairs.

     The rectory              its charm
                  hasn't lost 
(nor) the garden              its appeal

Stating the verb only once is an efficient way to avoid redundancy. It needs special care when reading it out loud, so that those pairs can be easily identified.

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1  
I cannot see how it is old-fashioned. –  tchrist Mar 26 '13 at 10:41
    
I don't mean obsolete nor deprecated. It's just not the type of formula you'd expect people you're talking to to use. It still sounds nice and refined in books, though. –  sylvainulg Mar 26 '13 at 21:20
    
Well, I certainly would; it depends on how well-spoken one is, I imagine. –  tchrist Mar 26 '13 at 21:26

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