Coordination, Apposition, and Ellipsis

Coordination is a very common element in sentence structure: the placing together of elements that have exactly the same syntactic function. For instance:

Jane and Dick love bagels and chardonnay. [The finite verb, love, has coordinate subjects, Dick and Jane and coordinate completers, bagels and chardonnay.]

Spot hates Fang and Jumbo but adores Ms. Beebs, bowling, and beer. [One subject with two coordinate finite verbs, hates and adores. Hates has two coordinate completers and adores has three.]

Let’s try some of that delicious and nutritious cobra chow. [Delicious and nutritious are coordinate adjectives, modifying cobra chow.]

It’s now time to look at some additional aspects of coordination and also to introduce two other elements: apposition and ellipsis.

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The Meanings of Coordinating Connectives

The three coordinating connectives, and, or, and but, express among them the three possible relationships among coordinate elements in English:

And includes the connected elements; that is, it adds them together:

His fangs and his conversation are dull. [two “dulls”]

Grab your partners and swing ‘em around! [The instruction includes both grabbing and swinging.]

That mouse has been running up and down the clock all day. [Coordinate prepositions: both directions are included.]

In contrast, or excludes one coordinated element or signals alternatives: only one is possible:

Do you prefer slithering or dithering?

Shape up or ship out! [not both.]

I don’t know if I’m hungry or in love. [The prepositional phrase in love is not a modifier in this sentence but a coordinate completer of the finite verb, don’t know.]

The third coordinating connective, but includes both coordinated items while expressing a contrast between them:

He’s small but venomous. [He’s both, but they’re contrasted qualities.]

I play with Fang but work with Jumbo. [play versus work:but I do both.]

Last but not least … [The not cancels the contrast but not the “including.”]

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The relationship between coordinate elements can be stressed through the use of certain special combinations of adjectives and coordinating connectives:

not only…but also

Both wiggling and slithering are in fashion right now.

He’s either sulking or drunk.

Not only champagne corks but also Popsicle sticks make good migration fetishes.

If you are a gentleman,
As I suppose you be,
You’ll neither laugh nor smile
At the tickling of your knee.
A nursery rhyme

These pairs are called correlatives—units that “relate together.” The adjectives, both, either, not only, or neither, go just before the first of the coordinate functions and, again, serve to emphasize the connection. The coordinating connectives go, of course, between the coordinated elements.

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When more than two elements are coordinated, they make up what is called a series (as do sitcoms and athletic contests). The items in the series are ordinarily separated by commas; then, to signal that the series is about to end, a coordinating connective comes between the last two items (the comma after the next-to-last element is optional):

We’ve got Jane dolls, Dick dolls, Spot dolls, and Fang dolls. [a series of completers of have got]

I reached out, touched her proboscis, and fainted in ecstasy. [a series of finite verbs that share the same subject]

Arsenic, cobra venom, botulism, or cocoa will resolve your problem. [A series of subjects of will resolve]

For the sake of emphasis or rhythm, every item in a series may be joined with a coordinating connective. For example, many post office buildings in the United States are inscribed with this motto:

Neither rain nor snow nor cold nor dark of night will stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

In the next example, a speaker would progressively stress the and’s more forcefully, to emphasize the inclusiveness of her or his affection:

Why choose? I love Fang and Spot and Dick and beer.

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Each of the following sentences contains two noun phrases that refer to the same thing but in different words. I’ve italicized the main words of these phrases:

Our next guest is Monty, the Python.

The guest is Monty; the guest is the python. But Monty and python both refer to the same creature: there’s only one guest.

A certain reptile, once the terror of four continents, now rides in the grass with all the other narrow fellows.

Reptile and the terror of four continents, both the subjects of rides, refer to the same single snake (note that the verb is singular).

His skill in his favorite competitive sport, dunking bagels in beer, earned him an athletic scholarship.

His favorite competitive sport and dunking bagels in beer are the same activity. Both phrases are completers of the preposition in.

Elements like these are said to be in apposition (from a Latin word that means “placed toward” each other) We also say that such elements are apposed (the verb) or that they’re appositives (the noun). Apposition is a special kind of coordination between noun phrases. To repeat: apposed nouns have exactly the same function in their sentence (that’s what makes them coordinate), and they both refer to the same thing but in different words. The second apposed noun either identifies the first one or gives additional information about it:

The name Fang makes even snake charmers tremble. [Fang identifies the name.]

Snake charmers, a serious bunch of professionals, don’t bother with retirement packages. [The second appositive, a serious bunch of professionals, gives additional information about the first, snake charmers.]

For one final example:

And now, here they are!—those great personalities of the talk-show circuit: Jacob the Media Star and Brigid the Polymath!

Jacob and media star are apposed and so are Brigid and polymath (a person of enormous learning): we have a total of two guests. Both apposed pairs are in apposition with those great personalities.

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We frequently leave words out of sentences, so long as the meaning is clear without them. We can say the following:

Have you teased any cobras lately?

I haven’t unknotted Miss Hiss yet, but I will unknot her.

But we can also say instead:

Teased any cobras lately?

I haven’t unknotted Miss Hiss yet, but I will.

The leaving-out of words from sentences is called ellipsis (Greek for “coming short”). The verb is to ellipt; a sentence from which words have been ellipted is an elliptical sentence. (For ellipt as a verb, a relatively new coinage, see the entry on ellipsis in Reference).

Ellipsis isn’t strictly related to coordination because ellipsis doesn’t involve paired elements. But leaving elements out is roughly the opposite of adding elements together, so it’s convenient to mention it here. There are two reasons for ellipting words. One is to avoid repetition; the other is to emphasize the words that remain:

You can give me a hug if you want. [Elliptical for You can give me a hug if you want to give me a hug. We would never say all that.]

Much coin, much care. [A proverb: coin = money; care = anxiety.] A finite verb is missing: involves? requires? leads to?, so a stronger emphasis falls on the two alliterating nouns, the subject and completer.

Download practice sentences for Coordination and Apposition.

–> Continue on to Introducing Complex Sentences.

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