A question from Paul Zaffaroni in Mexico:
Several years ago I heard this dialogue in a movie: "I will never forget you." The other person replied: "nor I you." I have never heard this kind of reply before, but I know it is grammatically correct. Could you please tell me how you would classify it?
Karen Adams answers:
This is a really interesting question. But before we begin I do need to say that it sounds as if Paul has been watching a very old English film, because the phrase “nor I you” isn’t really something you would hear nowadays in British English.
However, the question does give us a very clear example of something which is very common in English. It’s an example of ellipses. Ellipses is missing out what you, the speaker and the listener already know. In Paul’s example, we have “I will never forget you” and “nor I you.”
The person who is answering really means “nor will I ever forget you.”
However, both the listener and the speaker know that this information is shared so they don’t need to say it. You can find much more common examples of ellipses in everyday language, for example, in the sentence: “I drove to work, and then I parked the car in the car park.” You wouldn’t really expect to hear “I” said twice. So normally you would hear “I drove to work and parked in the car park.” We miss out the second “I” because we already know that it’s there.
Similarly, “I listen to the news on the radio and I listened to the drama programme on the radio.” You would normally say “I listened to the news and the drama programme on the radio.” This gives us all of the new information, but it misses out the things which we know already. In this case, “I listened” so “I listened to the news and the drama programme on the radio.”
We can think of lots of other examples if we can think of the example of love and forgetting, you may hear in a film, for example, “I will always love you.” And the person who’s listening may say “and I you.” What they mean is, “and I will always love you.” But they don’t need to repeat the words which the other speaker has already said.
Ellipses also feature in sentences where we know exactly what the speaker is saying, and they may drop off a final word. So for example: “he is as tall as I am.” You may actually hear someone say “he is as tall as I.” We don’t need the “am” as it doesn’t add any new information.
We try to be as economical as possible when we speak, using only the words which will give the listener the information which he or she needs. Therefore, if we’re repeating information or adding in extra words which don’t give any more information, we tend to drop them out. This is what ellipses are.
One important thing to remember, however, is that sometimes, in our examples, ellipses can sound a little old fashioned. So in our example “he is as tall as I” normally in British English you would hear, these days “he’s as tall as me.” However, grammatically, “he is as tall as I” is the more correct.
And in Paul’s example “I will never forget you”…“nor I you” - this is something you’re actually unlikely to hear these days in British English. Probably the person answering would say “me neither.” However, grammatically, “nor I you” is the more correct.
Do try to listen out for ellipses in everyday language.
Audio - Download the question and answer (mp3 - 1.3mb)
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