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As far as I know, using ellipsis in the second part of the sentence is very common. However, using it in the first part of the sentence looks unusual, at least to me. Is it grammatically correct to use ellipsis in the first part of the following sentence? "His first was a failure, but this second book is a total success."

  • Sounds perfectly natural to me. – WS2 Nov 13 '15 at 20:44
  • @WS2 So this type of ellipsis is natural among native speakers. – mido mido Nov 13 '15 at 20:54
  • @midomido In your first language, is ellipsis grammatical and are there strict rules about where it can occur in a sentence? – MetaEd Nov 13 '15 at 21:09
  • I'm not so sure it's OK with this second book; I read it as his second book at first, and that's OK. But changing the possessor to a demonstrative screws up the structure required for what I spose is reverse conjunction-reduction. Rather like the way gapping works in Japanese and other SOV languages. – John Lawler Nov 13 '15 at 21:14
  • @M...d l don't think this type of ellipsis is used in my first language. – mido mido Nov 13 '15 at 21:23
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There is no rule that states ellipsis has to come at any point in a sentence, or that a parallel structure must be involved.

Looking good, John! Getting more exercise?

Here we've elided a few words:

[You are] looking good, John! [Have you been] getting more exercise?

For your own example, I think it's not only fine and valid, it's also better because it's fresher and not necessarily expected and therefore not boring. What you're doing is holding off until the second clause to let the reader (or listener) know the real subject of the sentence. That piques curiosity because the subject can't be dismissed until it's at least brought up, and it isn't brought up until later, by which time there has been a slight but real anticipatory build-up.

Indeed, manipulating tension is a key element of style.

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  • Thank you, Robusto. I have thought that making ellipsis is limited to later parts of the sentences. So it is stylistically appropriate. – mido mido Nov 13 '15 at 21:06
  • This is a particular kind of ellipsis, called "Conversational Deletion". It follows rules, like all deletions. "Ellipsis" is a very vague term, and just means that something is missing that might or should be there; it says nothing about what's missing or how it happened, or what rule it followed. Or how we can tell it's sposta be there, for that matter. – John Lawler Nov 13 '15 at 21:11
  • @JohnLawler: Looking good, John! Getting more exercise? – Robusto Nov 13 '15 at 21:21
  • @Robusto: As a matter of fact, I just got back from the Y. You? :-) – John Lawler Nov 13 '15 at 21:22
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    @JohnLawler: I did my daily 16.25 mile route on the bike. So yeah. – Robusto Nov 13 '15 at 21:23

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