Grammar Elision: Definition and Examples |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Elision: Definition and Examples

If you care to be honest, you’ll admit that Delilah is a ne’er-do-well.

Ralph should probably offer to share that ham sandwich, or Billy Ray is gonna snatch it from him anyway.

Coulda, shoulda, woulda: This is what happens when we don’t change the oil.

Many of us who use American English have probably read, said, or heard such expressions. Each sentence includes a highly common linguistic form.

What Is Elision?

Elision is the dropping of a syllable, letter, or sound from a word or a phrase. In the opening examples, we see such dropping in you’ll (you will), ne’er-do-well (never-do-well), gonna (going to), coulda (could have), shoulda (should have), woulda (would have), and don’t (do not).

With a noted first usage in the late 16th century, elision originates from the Latin ēlīsiōn- (stem of ēlīsiō), “a striking out.” Identified specifically, elision often appears in three particular ways:

syllable elision: dropping a syllable, e.g., history into hist‘ry

consonant elision: dropping a consonant, e.g., over into o’er

vowel elision: dropping a vowel, e.g., it is into ’tis

When reading, we can often easily identify elision by an apostrophe replacing a syllable, letter, or sound or by a merging of words we otherwise understand as separate (such as gonna for going to).

When speaking or listening, we will likewise typically recognize elision by merged words, as well as by missing sounds, such as the pronunciation of every as ev’ry and Catholic as Cath’lic.

Elision: Why We Use It

Throughout time, people have always looked to ease and shorten words in conversation. Doing so can help create a sense of trust and familiarity by making communication more flowing and relaxed.

Consider for example the difference in language and voice between a text from a friend and a letter from a law firm.

Beyond casual familiarity, economy of communication further favors our desire to lessen effort where it is not or may not be needed. Saying don’t is simply easier than saying do not.

Such reduction can be especially desirable when we are in a quick-paced exchange or are stating a point with passion. When we’re excited about something, what might be more expressive and rapid: I am serious or I’m serious?

Because elision makes communication more comfortable and colloquial, it is frequently used in consumer marketing and advertising for a quicker connection with an audience.


I’m Lovin’ It (McDonald’s)

Finger-lickin’ good (Kentucky Fried Chicken)

Betcha Can’t Eat Just One (Lay’s)

It’s the Real Thing (Coca-Cola)

Hot-N-Ready (Little Caesars)

Elision further supports cadence and rhythm in creative works such as songs and poetry. For example, if you are familiar with Michael Jackson’s song “Bad,” which lyric line better suits the song: “Because I’m bad, I’m bad” or “Because I am bad, I am bad”?

Note also how the famous Guns N’ Roses song “Sweet Child O’ Mine” elides the word “of” in the title and within the chorus:

Whoa-o-oh, sweet child o’ mine
Whoa-o-o-oh, sweet love of mine

The band’s name uses elision as well (Guns N’ Roses instead of Guns and Roses).

In poetic writing, Shakespeare was well known to apply elision in achieving iambic pentameter (lines with five pairs of stressed and unstressed syllables for a total of ten syllables), such as in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”:

But with thy brawls thou hast disturb’d our sport

The ox hath therefore stretch’d his yoke in vain,

The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn

Hath rotted ere his youth attain’d a beard; [ere = before]

And crows are fatted with the murrion flock; [variation to eleven syllables]

The nine men’s morris is fill’d up with mud.

The American tendency to drop the letter “g” from the present participle of verbs is yet another way elision serves many forms of speech and creative expression.


You’re not really goin’ to Mount Kilimanjaro, are you?

“Tossin’ and Turnin’ ”  (song by Bobby Lewis)

“Stayin’ Alive” (song by the Bee Gees)

“Up ahead they’s a thousan’ lives we might live, but when it comes it’ll on’y be one.” (dialectical dialogue from John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”)

Elision: Guidelines for Usage

Now that we understand what elision is and how it’s used, let’s touch on some tips for keeping it sharpened as a tool in our box.

1) Use elision to effortlessly combine words that represent natural speaking. Good communicators have a good ear for speech patterns and how different people express themselves.

For example, we might not often ascribe elision to an individual or a fictional character who is speaking for high-level academia or to the United Nations. On the other hand, we might notice and include it for dialogue between friends or with someone who is helping us fix our car.

2) Think about your audience. Who will be receiving the elision will matter. Are you writing to families about a summer water park through social media, or is it a letter to the board of a city museum? Are you speaking to a gathering of high schoolers or to visiting heads of state?

3) Apply elision to achieve cadence and rhythm. Just as Shakespeare did, beyond capturing natural, colloquial speech, use elision to shape the sounds and patterns of your writing. If elision will shorten six syllables to five for your purpose or style, let it be an instrument.

4) Elide words and phrases as they will be understood. Many who communicate in American English will recognize expressions such as “gotcha,” won’t,” and “fuggedaboudit.” They also likely won’t pause when you refer to “that friend o’ mine” from Seattle or the “Sk8tr Grrl” in the 2021 movie you saw.

They might, however, raise their eyebrows if you write or say “could’e” for “could be” or “planit” for “plant it” unless the style is distinctive to you or your character and well established beforehand.

Elision vs. Contraction

Some of the elision we’ve discussed thus far also features contraction, which is the combination of two words to shorten them (e.g., I’m, shouldn’t, and you’ve).

Contraction is always elision, but elision isn’t always contraction. As we’ve reviewed, elision more widely includes the omission of letters, sounds, and syllables.

For example, I’m (I am) is both contraction and elision. Ne’er, betcha, gonna, and stayin’ are elision but not contraction.

Pop Quiz

Identify any instances of elision in the following sentences.

1. Whadya say we get some o’ that beef brisket at Porter’s for dinner?

2. Joelle can’t yet say whether she’s bringin’ the diamonds.

3. Let me show y’all—here’s a better way to make a Mint Julep.

4. Is Levana all the way up there? Okay, well, o’er the hill we go to see her.

5. ‘Member when Kai and Chen were here last semester? They kinda made the project more interesting.


Pop Quiz Answers

1. Whadya say we get some o’ that beef brisket at Porter’s for dinner?

2. Joelle can’t yet say whether she’s bringin’ the diamonds.

3. Let me show y’allhere’s a better way to make a Mint Julep.

4. Is Levana all the way up there? Okay, well, o’er the hill we go to see her.

5. ‘Member when Kai and Chen were here last semester? They kinda made the project more interesting.

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