There are sentences like this in many literature books:

He held a gun, a sword, a bible.

It is not a sentence, just a phrase.

They do not have word "and" and "but". I think those should be like these:

He held a gun, a sword, (and) a bible.

It is not a sentence, (but) just a phrase.

However, since those sentences give clarity and are better-sounding, I never thought they are grammatically incorrect. But I faced some challenging cases as I was trying to write those sentences, such as a sentence with omission of "and" and only two nouns.

He held a gun, a sword.

This sentence sounds so off to my ear that it is almost dreadful. But when I wrote a sentence with "but" omitted and only two nouns, it seemed fine to me.

It is not a sentence, just a phrase.

So, what is the rule that enables me to delete those coordinating conjunctions between two nouns, and how can I use correctly? Also, is it a formal way of writing?

1 Answer 1


You can regard this merely as an ellipsis of the missing conjunctions, or as a full-fledged zeugma. If you are a native speaker, your ear is your best guide.

Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtle; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend.
— Francis Bacon

  • Is it a formal way of writing? By that, I mean an article or something of sort.
    – omission
    Aug 31, 2015 at 1:25
  • You mean, is the use of ellipses or zeugmata common in formal writing? You cannot get much more formal than Viscount Bacon (or Cicero or Kennedy, who are also quoted in the Wikipedia article). Aug 31, 2015 at 1:34
  • But I don't think I see much of them, especially in essays.
    – omission
    Aug 31, 2015 at 1:36
  • I think that's just a lack of imagination or rhetorical grace on the part of people who write essays. Aug 31, 2015 at 4:45

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