Cryptic class — Deletions

Now for deletion clues! They can also be called subtractions.

I'm sure you've already figured out what this cryptic device is all about from its name. Yes, we're going to remove letters, and ruthlessly throw them away. Cruel, but fair.

Deletions are used quite a lot in cryptic clues, as it's common to be able to remove a letter or two from one word, to get to another. Some examples :

  • ABATE - A and E = BAT
  • CHIP - C = HIP
  • TRIP - T = RIP

And so on.

When it comes to these clues, you not only need to know what word to start with (with deletion indicators), you also need to know which letters to dump (usually using abbreviations or position indicators). The letter to remove are often clued with a standard (or more cryptic!) abbreviation (such as east = E, street = ST, or 50 = L), but sometimes the clue will tell you to remove the first, middle, or last letters.

Here's a 'pure' deletion clue:

Work the land, without first limb (3)

In this clue, work the land is the word to find a synonym for, and part of the wordplay. Let's try FARM. Now you need to get FARM without its first letter. FARM - F = ARM. And ARM, as you've figured out already, no doubt, is a limb.

However, the deletion device is often combined with other cryptic devices, especially anagrams. Here is an example of just such a 'mixed' deletion clue, where the deletion is combined with an anagram:

Accomplice is sort of loyal, without love (4)

Accomplice is the definition here. Sort of is the anagram indicator. What's the fodder? Loyal, without love. Love is abbreviated to O (looks like a zero, from the tennis score). So we have LOYAL - O = LYAL. Which is an anagram of ALLY (an accompliace)! Mad, I know, but it works!

Deletion & Position Indicators

Deletion indicators are words which tell you to delete some letters. They can be a host of words, anything that gives the sense of removing, excluding, or losing, and so on — such as:

  • abandon
  • absent
  • almost
  • blow off
  • cut short (delete last letter)
  • decapitated (delete first letter)
  • dismiss
  • exclude
  • forgot
  • gone
  • leaderless (delete first letter)
  • left
  • lost
  • removed
  • ripped off
  • short
  • tailless (delete last letter)
  • without

As you can see from the example above, the position of the letters to be removed is often included. You might need to indicate the first, middle, or last letters, or the first and last letters, or some other combination.

Some first letter indicators:

  • at first
  • beginning
  • first
  • headless
  • opening

Some last letter indicators:

  • at last
  • back
  • ending
  • finale
  • lastly
  • Sometimes both the first and last letter need to be removed. These have some rather funny indicators:

    • banks (like the banks of a river)
    • borders
    • case
    • covers (like a book cover)
    • edges
    • extremely
    • fringes
    • outsiders
    • sides

    And the middle letters can be indicated with words like:

    • central
    • guts
    • innards
    • inner
    • heart
    • stuffing

    So if you see lacking guts, lost outsiders, short leader, or lost at first in a clue, or some similar combo, you're looking at a deletion!

    Here are five clues which use deletions to try your hand at. Miss Petal is on the ball, and guarding the clue explanations and answers from the safety of her bag.

    1. Yell! Soprano left to get lotion! (5)
    2. Rainbow developed without artificial intelligence produces a drab colour (5)
    3. Half of cows are feline (3)
    4. Tamale without stuffing? What a story! (4)
    5. Consumed a clear drink, without the covers on (3)


    1. A yell is a SCREAM. Soprano leads to the abbreviation S, and left is the deletion indicator. Lotion is the definition, as you've no doubt figured out already. Ignore the punctuation!
    2. This clue has a deletion, and an anagram, and an abbreviation — phew! Don't worry, you can do it. Rainbow is the anagram fodder. Developed is the anagram indicator. OK, so we need an anagram of rainbow to get the answer; but the answer is only five letters long, not seven. Without is the deletion indicator. What is rainbow without? The letters AI (keyed by artificial intelligence). So delete AI from RAINBOW, and jumble them up to get the answer. A drab colour is the definition!
    3. Feline (as a noun, not an adjective!) is the definition here. Half is the deletion indicator, telling you to just look at half of the letters from another word for cows (let's try CATTLE).
    4. This clue has a word 'in the clear' - get that tamale, and try it without stuffing (its middle letters). Story is the definition.
    5. Consumed is the definition in this clue. WATER is a clear drink. Without the covers on is the deletion indicator, telling you to remove the covers of the word — in other words, the first and last letters of the word.


    1. CREAM
    2. BROWN
    3. CAT
    4. TALE
    5. ATE