Language Lab

Truncated Sentences – what they are, how to use them, and why…

Truncate

Verb
Past tense: truncated; past participle: truncated

1. Shorten (something) by cutting off the top or the end.
“a truncated cone shape”

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When you cut something short you truncate it, and you can truncate many things – including sentences. Why do people cut sentences short? Truncated sentences are used for a variety of reasons in both spoken and written English. Be it in a novel, play or poem, writers know that truncated sentences can have a range of effects, and they use them on purpose, often to grab our attention. Truncated sentences pop up a lot in everyday speech too, although they can cause some confusion when used incorrectly.

We’re going to take a closer look at truncated sentences now, and explain what they are, why you might want to use them, and how you can you use them to improve your English skills.

What is a truncated sentence?

Truncated sentences are often referred to as short sentences, but there is a difference between short sentences and truncated sentences. A truncated sentence has to have been cut short – there need to be words missing. For example:

“I like reading”

“I like reading more than Diane [does]”

The first sentence is short. However, the second sentence is truncated, as it has been shortened. Here there’s no need for the word “does” to be used in order for the meaning of the sentence to be understood, so the writer or speaker has removed it – in this case, because it’s a more casual, conversational way to express how they feel about reading.

A good way to understand the effects of a truncated sentence is to extend the sentence by adding the words that are missing, and comparing the extended version to the truncated one. Take a look at these examples and read them aloud – and think about the effect created by shortening the sentence:

“I like reading more than Diane”

“I like reading more than Diane does”

“I like reading books more than Diane likes reading books”

Why use a truncated sentence?

The above example shows us that truncated sentences can be used to make communication more casual and conversational. But what other reasons are there for using truncated sentences?

Create tension, haste or urgency – We talk about a short, sharp shock – when we shorten our communication, we give it power. For example, “Let’s go!” creates a sense of urgency, whereas the longer “Let’s go now because the shops will be shutting in half an hour” doesn’t. When it comes to communicating, sometimes less is more. Think of the importance of sentence structure – short, simple sentences or truncated sentences can create tension, haste or urgency, whereas longer compound or complex sentences are slower, and often feature in formal texts.

Reinforce what’s being said – A truncated sentence can place emphasis on a previous statement or sentence. “Don’t call me any more. I’m serious.”

Make an impact – You can use short, truncated sentences to create punch and make a point. There is a natural pause after a sentence. This gives the other person space in which to consider what is said. Using shorter truncated sentence gives the other person more time to pause and think about what is being said, creating a bigger impact. It works. Believe me.

When used with ellipsis, truncated sentences can have a different kind of impact too:

Abby lifted her glass. “May the worst always be behind you. May the sun always…” She gazed out at the street.

Here the impact is not short and sharp, but a lingering one that leaves you wondering what the speaker would have said had she continued.

Clarify a longer description – Following a long description, often in formal texts, or in work emails, for example, truncated sentences can be used to summarise and clarify what’s gone before:

The ordering system requires an initial completion of form DC10 followed, after this has been processed by finance and legal, by an approval that allows for form DC12 to be completed after the affirmative response to DC10 is received. So remember: Use DC10. Wait for a response. Then use DC12.

How to use truncated sentences

It’s easy to trim words from sentences – just makes sure that when you remove them from a sentence you still get a sentence that makes sense.

You can use truncated sentences whenever you want to create punch and make a point, but try not to overuse them. Don’t use too many truncated sentences in a row, as this can sound unnatural, and make the reader or listener feel as if they are being bombarded. Now listen. Remember. That’s it. You hear? Too many is too many.

Experiment with truncated sentence lengths. You can use phrases and even words as sentences. Really.

As a general rule, short, truncated sentences work well at the start of a paragraph or speech item to grab attention – Give me this. Not that. Or at the end, to summarise and signal completion.

Try using a truncated sentence as a summary after a longer description. By the end of a long sentence or series of long sentences, a reader or listener may have forgotten the main point of what is being said. So truncated sentences can be useful to end on here to clarify what is being said and to draw attention to the main points. Clarify. And draw attention.

When not to use a truncated sentence

There are instances where removing words from sentences can feel natural, but leave the meaning of the sentence unclear. For example:

“I get along with my supervisor better than my co-worker.”

Does this person mean that they like their supervisor more than their co-worker, or do they mean that their co-worker has a better relationship with the supervisor than they do? Truncated sentences can lead to ambiguity, so sometimes it’s better to extend the sentence by adding the words that complete the intended meaning – “I get along with my supervisor better than my co-worker does.”

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Wil is a writer, teacher, learning technologist and keen language learner. He’s taught English in classrooms and online for nearly 10 years, trained teachers in using classroom and web technology, and written e-learning materials for several major websites. He speaks four languages and is currently looking for another one to start learning.

Wil

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