To save time, just drop the subject

Rick Broadaway

Most students of English know that, unlike Japanese, the English language insists on having a subject. You cannot say, for instance, “Reads the newspaper.” You must say “She reads the newspaper.” Linguists describe this as the subject-predicate link, and in English the subject (She) is very much tied to the predicate (reads the newspaper). Japanese, on the other hand, is a topic-comment language, and the link is less strong between these two parts of the sentence. In Japanese, if all participants in a conversation know what the topic is (in this case, a particular female person), then it can be dropped in individual utterances. This is usually not possible in English; however, there are times when it IS possible, and in fact it can be commonly heard in familiar conversations.

The most well-known example of dropping the subject is when you look at a person and tell them to do something, like “Write your name on the blackboard.” Dropping the subject from an imperative sentence is already accepted as correct English grammar, and the subject is only used if it is not clear who you are talking to, such as in this situation: Imagine that you are playing a board game with several friends and you point to the person across the table and say, “You go first.”

Many cases of subject-dropping occur in situations where communication is better if it is brief, such as when making an expensive phone call (Calling Istanbul) or writing a paid advertisement (Selling used guitar). These are special registers of the language whose shortenings are due to economics. But, similar time-saving language can occur in everyday conversations, especially in a busy modern lifestyle. Here are a few examples:


In a busy shopper in jewelry shop

Clerk: May I help you?
Shopper: No, thanks. Just looking.


A man is trying to exit a crowded elevator before the door closes

Man: Getting out!


A woman is trying to order at a fast-food restaurant

Clerk: Did you order French fries?
Woman: No, onion rings.


Try to think of other situations where it would not be impolite to say things as quickly as possible, and then think of the quickest response. Good luck!

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