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Gapping is a term in linguistics that refers to clauses in which all verbal elements have been omitted, but in which internal arguments of the verb (direct object, indirect object, prepositional or other phrases) remain. Gapping is characteristically found in coordinate structures, as in (1):

(1) Some ate nattoo, and others rice.

In (1), the second conjunct has the subject others, the object rice, but the verb has been 'gapped', that is, omitted. Gapping can span several verbs and nonfinite clause boundaries, as in (2), but it cannot apply across a finite clause boundary, as seen in (3):

(2) Sam wants to start to learn German, and Charlene Spanish.
(3) *Sam said that they spoke German, and Charlene Spanish.

The sentence in (3) is acceptable only when the gap is understood to mean spoke, not when it is taken to span the embedded clause boundary (with the intended, but unavailable, meaning said that they spoke).

Gapping has been the subject of analysis since the early days of generative grammar, with most early analyses[1] taking gapping to be a kind of ellipsis, while some more recent analyses[2] have argued that the verb undergoes across-the-board movement out of both conjuncts.

Gapping is found in many languages, where its properties depend in part on the nature of the language. In SVO languages, the gap is always in a noninitial conjunct (as in English: this is also known as forward gapping), while in SOV languages such as Japanese, the gap is in the nonfinal conjunct (also known as backward gapping).[3]


  1. ^ Ross 1967, Jackendoff 1971, Sag 1976, Hankamer 1979.
  2. ^ Johnson to appear, Lechner 2001.
  3. ^ Ross 1967, Hankamer 1979, and Hartmann 2000 include extensive discussion of cross-linguistic differences.


  • Hankamer, Jorge. 1979. Deletion in coordinate structures. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc.
  • Hartmann, Katharina. 2000. Right Node Raising and gapping: Interface conditions on prosodic deletion. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Jackendoff, Ray. 1971. Gapping and related rules. Linguistic Inquiry 2:21-35.
  • Johnson, Kyle. 2001. What VP ellipsis can do, and what it can’t, but not why. In The handbook of contemporary syntactic theory, ed. Mark Baltin and Chris Collins, 439–479. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
  • Johnson, Kyle. To appear. Gapping is not (VP) ellipsis. Linguistic Inquiry.
  • Lechner, Winfried. 2001. Reduced and phrasal comparatives. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 19:683–735.
  • Sag, Ivan. 1976. Deletion and logical form. Doctoral Dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • Ross, John R. 1967. Constraints on variables in syntax. Doctoral Dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts.


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