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Ellipses

You can use it for omission or hesitation, but is it too annoying?

By
Mignon Fogarty,
June 10, 2010
Episode #225

Page 4 of 4

Most style guides call for a space between the dots. Typesetters and page designers use something called a thin space or a non-breaking space that prevents the ellipsis points from getting spread over two lines in a document (6). Also, many fonts have an ellipsis symbol that you can insert, but for everyday purposes, it's fine to use regular spaces between the ellipsis points. Type period-space-period-space-period (7). Just make sure your dots don’t end up on two different lines.

Also, usually there is a space on each side of an ellipsis. The ellipsis is typically standing in for a word or a sentence, so just imagine that it's a word itself, and then it's easy to remember to put a space on each side.

If you're omitting something that comes after a complete sentence, meaning that your ellipsis has to follow a period, put the period at the end of the sentence just like you normally would, then type a space, and then type or insert your ellipsis. Again, you're treating the ellipsis as if it were a word: the first word of the next sentence. This will result in four dots in a row with spaces between each dot, but this is not a four-dot ellipsis—there's no such thing. It is a period followed by a regular three-dot ellipsis.

I’ll also put some examples of sentences that combine ellipses with other punctuation marks such as exclamation points and semicolons.

Ellipses at the beginning and end of quotations

Most style guides don't call for an ellipsis when you omit something at the beginning or end of a quotation, but occasionally you need one. For example, if you leave out something at the beginning of a sentence, but your remaining quotation starts with a capital letter, you need an ellipsis to show the reader that the quotation is beginning in the middle of the original sentence.

Aardvark said, “. . . Squiggly never caught a fish.” [Perhaps the original quotation was “Even though he was on the lake all day, Squiggly never caught a fish.”]

Ellipses with question marks and exclamation points

“Where did he go? . . .  Why did he go out again?” [Material is removed between the two sentences]

“Where did he go . . . ? Why did he go out again?” [Material is removed before the first question mark. Note the space between the last ellipsis point and the question mark.]

Treat exclamation points as you would question marks.

Ellipses with commas and semicolons

“Aardvark went home, . . .  and Squiggly decided to meet him later.”

“Aardvark went home . . . ; Squiggly would meet him later.” [Note the space between the ellipsis and the semicolon.]

References

1. Shaw, H. Punctuate It Right. New York: Harper Paperbacks, 1993, p. 105.
2. The Chicago Manual of Style. 14th Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993, p. 368.
3. Goldstein, N. ed. The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual. Reading: Perseus Books, 1998, p. 272.
4. Woods, G. English Grammar for Dummies. Hoboken: Wiley Publishing, 2001, p. 331.
5. Ellar, J. “Herb Caen Gets His Way.” SFGate.com. June 14, 1996.  (accessed May 26, 2007).
6. Walsh, B. Lapsing Into a Comma. Chicago: Contemporary Books., 2004, p. 82.
7. Straus, J. The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation. 9th Edition. Mill Valley: Jane Straus, 2006, p. 31.

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