Correct Way of Using Ellipses in Writing

An ellipsis is a versatile punctuation mark. An ellipsis can improve your writing by making it more concise and impactful when you use it correctly. But how do you use it properly?

On the Internet, it is possible to see people who use ellipses everywhere. Some even use two, four, or five dots as an ellipse! Because its misuse is so common, students have refrained from using this powerful tool for fear of making errors.

In this article, we are going to talk about what ellipses are and the way to correctly use ellipses in writing.

What Are Ellipses?

black and white photo showing 5 stages of the lunar eclipse
Photo by Ian Parker on Unsplash

Ellipsis, or ellipses in their plural form, are dots that represent an omission of words. An ellipsis can substitute for words, sentences, or even an entire text without affecting its meaning.

An ellipsis can cut through the fluff of your writing. Translations can be substituted from context clues for ellipsis when words or sentences are redundant or difficult to understand.

An ellipsis isn’t only used to remove words from quoted text. A mood shift, thoughts trailing off, hesitation, pause, or suspense may be associated with an ellipsis.

If you omit a word, phrase, line, paragraph, or more from any quoted passage, use an ellipsis. Ellipses are useful if you don’t want to include non-relevant material when you are quoting from someone else.

As a fun fact, did you know what ellipsis means? “Ellipsis” comes from the ancient Greek word “to leave out.”

How Many Dots in an Ellipsis?

As mentioned before, many people use ellipses in the wrong way. So this has led many people to question: “how many dots should I use?”

Well, the correct answer is three dots. However, you can still see four dots together in some instances. Surprisingly, they are still grammatically correct! Some of them, at least.

It’ll look like four dots if you end a sentence with a period and add an ellipsis after the period. Technically, you aren’t looking at a four-point ellipsis, but a sentence like that would look deceptively like one.

You will end up with a period plus an ellipsis, which is about as long as four periods back to back.

Even if the sentence you’re connecting to is grammatically correct, it must end with a period.

Another common question is about spacing — should I add one or two spaces between the dots.

This one doesn’t really have a straightforward answer. The placement between the dots is dictated by the style of individual use. A space between every ellipsis point is required in the Chicago Manual of Style.

An ellipsis is a three-letter word in the AP Stylebook, with spaces on either side without any spaces between the dots. You can use any of these styles; as long as you are consistent throughout your document.

If you still aren’t sure, ask the instructor before writing!

Using Ellipses in Writing

If words are omitted from within two nearby sentences, insert the ellipsis in place of the omitting words. An ellipsis takes the place of omitted words within nearby sentences.

Ellipsis can also signal a pause in speech or that a sentence is trailed off the page. However, you shouldn’t use this technique in formal or academic writing.

In informal writing, ellipses are used to signify emotions, like hesitations or resentment.

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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