If they want to get revenge, Abra, I don't mind.

But perhaps they don't.

They don't in that utterance is included in the verbal substitution do or ellipsis? Is the full form

They don't want to get revenge

  • Are you asking what shortening 'But perhaps they don't want to get revenge.' to 'But perhaps they don't.' is called? Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 19:33
  • @EdwinAshworth yes. is it verbal substitution or ellipsis? because there is 'not' there, I can't decide
    – imadiya
    Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 19:38
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    @EdwinAshworth I think what OP's thinking about, is that there's a pro-verb DO and an auxiliary verb DO. The former is involved substitutions, the second in ellipsis. This is the auxiliary, but it's not immediately obvious why (although it would be for you or me, I reckon). Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 19:39
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    This isn't active verb substitution do (I asked him to pass the salt, and he did); this is do-support do. The original is But perhaps they Not want to get revenge; the Not requires do-support for not: But perhaps they do not want to get revenge; do not contracts to don't: But perhaps they don't (want to get revenge); and finally, Conjunction Reduction deletes material identical with the first clause: But perhaps they don't. "Ellipsis" just means 'something is missing somewhere'; it's not a specific enough term for grammar. Context and conditions are important. Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 21:59
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    ... It's late, but I'll try to paraphrase: This is not (active) verb substitution do, but anybody asking you to choose between '(active) verb substitution do' and 'ellipsis' here shouldn't be using the imprecise term 'ellipsis'. Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 22:27

1 Answer 1


Per Wikipedia, what you have is ellipsis: "words are omitted when the phrase needs to be repeated." The omitted words are "want to get revenge."

Substitution happens when a word is substituted for another word or words. That's not happening here. It would if your second sentence were "But perhaps they don't want that." In such a case, "that" would substitute for "to get revenge."

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