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For instance, in the sentence:

Without adding new items and modifying existing items.

Would it be correct to completely remove the first reference to the noun items? as in:

Without adding new and modifying existing items.

It sounds wrong. Is the only correct alternative replacing the explicit noun with an implicit reference as in:

Without adding new items and modifying existing ones.

Is there a more elegant way to avoid writing the explicit noun twice in this sentence?

I read this: Mixing adjective and noun enumerations but did not find it very useful.

  • In general, it's stylistically clumsy to omit the noun when you're modifying it with two or more multi-word elements. So it's okay to speak of, say, validating new and existing items, or adding and modifying items, but in your version it's probably better to repeat "items". You're simply mistaken in assuming it's not "elegant" to do this (the reverse, in fact). – FumbleFingers Mar 4 '14 at 18:39
  • So: Without adding new items nor modifying existing ones. – wolfdawn Mar 4 '14 at 18:42
  • In your specific context, I would say so, yes. But dump nor - at best it's "stilted" here, without the support of a preceding neither. The choice between and and or is to some extent stylistic, but really turns on whether you're thinking of the two possible actions as "two sides of the same coin" (use and) or as "related, but distinct" (use or). I would definitely ignore bib's advice re the comma (to be "valid" it would probably require another one after existing), but I guess everyone's entitled to their own opinion. – FumbleFingers Mar 4 '14 at 22:05
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I think that the addition of a comma would help

Without adding new, or modifying existing items.

The comma introduces a slight pause that suggests the missing, but implied items.

You will note that I substituted or for and. While the context is not provided, your example seems to suggest neither of the two conditions will occur. If you were to use and, it might be ambiguous and could be taken to mean neither would happen or that the concurrence of both would not happen.

  • 1
    Is this proper English though? – Kevin Workman Mar 4 '14 at 16:48
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You might be looking for something like: "Without adding or modifying new or existing items respectively.".

  • This is very suitable. – wolfdawn Mar 4 '14 at 16:46

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