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An elision is the removal of part of a word to shorten it. This might be an unstressed syllable, consonant, or letter from a word or phrase.

Elision decreases the overall number of syllables. The writing replaces the misses letter with an apostrophe to mark its absence. Often, the first part or last part of the word is removed. For example, the “be” in “because” is removed to create “cause.” When written in a sentence, for instance, when trying to convey someone’s dialect, it’s written with an extra apostrophe in front, “‘cause.” 

Elision pronunciation: eh-lee-shun

Elision definition and examples


Definition of Elision 

Elisions occur when writers remove letters from words. These letters are replaced by apostrophes to note their absence and ensure that the reader pronounces the words correctly. In most cases, the removed sound or syllable is unstressed. This means that the bulk of the word remains the same. It’s very common to hear elisions in everyday conversations. There are different versions in different languages. 


Examples of Elisions in Literature 

Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare 

In Sonnet 116,’ the poet uses elisions to ensure that the poem sticks to the correct rhyme scheme and metrical pattern. This is a common occurrence in Shakespeare’s poetry and plays. Lines seven and eight of this poem read: 

It is the star to every wand’ring bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

The word “wand’ring” is an example here. Shakespeare shortened it from “wandering” in order to take out an extra syllable. There are two more examples towards the end of the poem. The concluding couplet reads:

 If this be error and upon me prov’d,

I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

“Lov’d” and “prov’d” are examples here. Shakespeare was using the same type of elision at the end of these lines. This helps conclude the poem on a solid-feeling note and make sure the reader remembers it. 

Explore more of William Shakespeare’s poetry, including his 154 sonnets. 


Bleak House by Charles Dickens 

There are a few examples of elisions in Dickens’ Bleak House, including those found in the following quote: 

Different times there was other genlmen come down Tom-all-Alone’s a-prayin, but they all mostly sed as the t’other ‘wuns prayed wrong, and all mostly sounded to be a-talking to theirselves, or a-passing blame on the t’others, and not a-talkin to us.

Here, readers can see different examples of literary techniques used to convey dialect. Such as the combination of words in “a-prayin” and “t’others” and the use of “’wuns.” The first notable example is the fact that the “t” is left out of “gentlemen” in the first sentence. Often, dialect is easier to understand if read out loud. The pronunciations are clearer and easier to interpret.

Discover Charles Dickens’ poetry.


Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats 

In this very famous Keats sonnet, the poet uses several examples of elision. Here are a few lines in which readers can find one example: 

One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:

‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,

But being too happy in thine happiness,—

Here, Keats uses “’Tis” at the beginning of a line. In the same way that Shakespeare used elision to conform his lines to a particular metrical pattern, so too does Keats in this poem. Here are two more lines in which there is another interesting example: 

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been

Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,

This time, Keats shortens “cooled” to “cool’d.” Take a look at one more example from another stanza: 

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time

I have been half in love with easeful Death,

Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,

“Call’d” is one of the most common examples of elision in poetry. It is often shortened to this form.

Read more of John Keats’ poetry.


To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 

Throughout Lee’s masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird, there are examples of elisions in dialect. For instance, these lines: 

You ain’t sendin’ me home, missus. I was on the verge of leavin’ —- I done my time for this year. 

Here, the words “sending” and “leaving” are shortened to “sendin’” and “leavin’.” This helps convey the sound of the speaker’s words. Cutting off the “g” in “ing” endings is a very common example of elision. 


Elision or Contraction 

Although visually similar, elisions and contractions are actually opposites. The former occurs when a word is shortened through the removal of syllables and an apostrophe is added. For example, “because” is shortened to “‘cause.” A contraction occurs when two words are combined together, and an apostrophe is used to make that combination. For example, “do” and “not” make “don’t.” 


Why Do Writers Use Elisions? 

Elisions are most commonly found in poetry and within the dialogue in prose. It’s an important literary device in the former due to the fact that it allows writers to maintain the metrical pattern in a line or even emphasize the rhyme scheme. By taking out a syllable, the writer can ensure that a line has four, six, ten, or however many syllables their metrical pattern calls for. In prose, the literary device is most commonly associated with dialogue. Specifically when the writer wants to convey a character’s dialect. 

It could also be used when the writer wants to cut down on the number of words or syllables used in a piece of writing. This can help improve the overall feeling of the lines and make them flow easier. 


Related Literary Terms 

  • Dialect: a form of a language spoken by a group of people.
  • Dialogue: a literary technique that is concerned with conversations held between two or more characters.
  • Colloquial Diction: conversational in nature and can be seen through the use of informal words that represent a specific place or time.
  • Attitude: the tone, a writer, takes on whatever they are writing. It can come through in a character’s intentions, histories, emotions, and actions.
  • Archetype: universal symbols. They are characters, themes, and settings that appear throughout literary works.
  • Euphony: a literary device that refers to the musical, or pleasing, qualities of words.


Other Resources 

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