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

Mignon Fogarty
6-minute read
Episode #225

People often ask how to use ellipses, those little dot-dot-dots you often see in e-mail messages. For example, Mitra from Michigan asked, “When is it appropriate to use '...' in writing? People use it all the time, and it seems like a way to make your writing more informal and conversational, as if you were pausing. Can you also use [the dot-dot-dot] for formal writing?”

The answer is that you can use ellipses in formal writing in other ways, and you can occasionally use an ellipsis as Mitra described in his e-mail, but you shouldn't overdo it.

Using An Ellipsis to Show an Omission

In formal writing, the most common way to use an ellipsis is to show that you’ve omitted words. For example, if you're quoting someone and you want to shorten the quote, you use ellipses to indicate where you've dropped words or sentences.

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Here's a quote from the book Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens: “I cannot help it; reason has nothing to do with it; I love her against reason.”

Now far be it from me to edit Dickens, but if I were a journalist under a tight word limit looking at that quotation, I'd be tempted to shorten it to this: “I cannot help it . . . I love her against reason.” That middle part—“reason has nothing to do with it”—seems redundant, and taking it out doesn't change the meaning. Dot-dot-dot and it's gone, which saves seven words. Clearly, literature and journalism are not the same thing.

Here’s another example from a recent review of the movie “Get Him to the Greek.” In the Contra Costa Times, Randy Myers writes, “The outrageous ‘Greek’ works better than ‘Funny People’ at least in part because Apatow, who tends to make films that meander too much, hands over writing and directing to a protégé.”

If I wanted to quote Myers, and I had limited space, I could use an ellipsis to shorten the quotation: “The outrageous ‘Greek’ works better than ‘Funny People’ . . . because Apatow hands over writing and directing to a protégé.


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.

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