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How can I distinguish between elipsis type 1, 2 and 3, below? Type 1 and type 2 "nice day" and "sleeping dog" are both NPs. Type 3 "very sexy" in an AdjP.

  1. [Have a] nice day!
  2. [I see] a sleeping dog.
  3. [She is] very sexy.

Can I say that Type 1 and Type 2 are "NP elipsis" and Type 3 is AdjP elipsis (even if it wasn't the NP/AdjP that was elided?)

Or is there a better way?

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It seems to me that you are asking whether what matters is what you start out with or what you wind up with. Broadly speaking, transformational/generative grammar counts what you start with (you could say it's "speaker oriented"), while non-transformational phrase structure grammar counts what you wind up with (you could say it's "hearer oriented").

Your examples look, at first sight, as if what counts is what you wind up with, since in all the cases, you're left with a single constituent.

As a matter of terminology, it would not be wise to say that an ellipsis which removes everything except for a NP as NP-ellipsis, because people would think you meant that a NP was elided, not that it was left behind.

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Your examples involve a type of ellipsis mechanism that is not yet widely acknowledged. It has been called "left edge ellipsis". This ellipsis mechanism reaches in from the left edge of the utterance. Your examples do NOT involve any of the more widely acknowledged types of ellipsis (NP ellipsis, VP-ellipsis, gapping, stripping, sluicing, answer fragments, etc.).

Left edge ellipsis has been explored to some extent in works by Napoli (1982), Wilder (1997), Merchant (2004), and a couple of others.

Here are a few more examples of left edge ellipsis:

(1) a. [Do] You want coffee or tea?
    b. [Do you] Want coffee or tea?
    c. [Do you want] Coffee or tea?

(2) a. [That is] Ridiculous!

(3) a. [I] Have been working a lot lately.
    b. [I have] Been working a lot lately.
    c. [I have been] Working a lot lately.

(4) a. Pointing: [Pass the] Salt!

What is elided in cases of left edge ellipsis is pragmatically determined by the context in which it occurs. Conventionalized situations give rise to frequent occurrence of this mechanism.

A caveat: theories of ellipsis vary. Some researchers who have studied sentence fragments like the ones in the question would claim that ellipsis has not occurred in such cases at all. They would deny the existence of the mechanism that I, following Wilder (1997), have called "left edge ellipsis".

Finally, I agree with Greg Lee's comment about how the terminology is used. Ellipsis mechanism tend to be named according to the category that is omitted, e.g. N-ellipsis elides a noun, VP-ellipsis elides a VP, etc.

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  • Thanks for the detailed reply - and the issue about terminology is well-taken. However, in the even that I'd like to compare cases of ellipsis by what remains, is there a good way? e.g. compare 1. [I see] you. and 2. [I see] very well. Both are NP-ellipsis according to the standard terminology, but I'd like to make the distinction about what's left. How would you do this? – Teusz Feb 22 '15 at 9:12
  • I think you have misunderstood the standard terminology and standard categories. "you" can be viewed as an NP, but "very well" is an adverb phrase (AdvP). Since you have quite distinct categories, the most you could say is that the ellipsis examples are XPs as fragments, i.e. as what's left over after ellipsis is some phrasal category. – Tim Osborne Feb 22 '15 at 10:49
  • By the way, Ross's characterization of Gapping is in terms of what is left after deletions. There must be exactly two constituents, one from within the VP and one from outside it. (I don't know a reference to give -- this is what McCawley says in The Syntactic Phenomena of English.) – Greg Lee Feb 22 '15 at 18:59
  • But the term "gapping" refers to the gap, i.e. to what has been omitted, not to the remnants. Many who study gapping these days acknowledge stripping as the same mechanism, but stripping leaves just one remnant. – Tim Osborne Feb 23 '15 at 1:04

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