Posted by: Jodi | May 5, 2010

The Ellipsis . . . Demystified

I most often I see the ellipsis (that’s the “. . .”) used as a way to add a dramatic pause in writing, especially in dialogue; or trailing at the end of a sentence to show an unfinished thought.  When properly used, an ellipse can add needed suspense and emotion without the use of words.  While fun to use this way, technically speaking this isn’t the true use for Mr. Ellipsis.

The true use for the ellipsis is to show the removal of words from a quote.  And yes, there are rules for its use.

1) Thou shalt not EVER change the meaning of the quoted material by removing words, ethically speaking.

Example:

“This movie is awful in so many different ways. Even the opening titles are cheesy. Sci-fi epics usually begin with a stab at impressive titles, but this one just displays green letters on the screen in a type font that came with my Macintosh. Then the movie’s subtitle unscrolls from left to right in the kind of “effect” you see in home movies.” (Actual part of Roger and Ebert’s review of Battleship Earth, which I had the misfortune of watching last weekend.)

Shall NOT be changed to:

“This movie is . . . different,  . . . impressive.”

2) Thou shalt only use THREE dots with spaces between them.  Most programs will insert the spaces for you; WordPress isn’t one of them.

3) When omitting large portions of text, e.g. multiple paragraphs, thou shalt place the ellipsis after the last punctuation mark ending the preceding paragraph.

4) In writing, as mentioned before, the ellipsis also expresses intentional silence in dialogue or a thought that has wandered/been cut off.  However, over usage carries the same risks as the over usage of Mr. Comma; that is, sounding a bit “Shatneresque.”

“Oh . . . how I wish . . . I was in Battleship Earth.!  I might have saved . . . the film.”

Restrain yourself, there are support groups out there for chronic ellipsis usage.

Additional resources:

Grammerbook: Ellipses – a very concise rule set for the proper use of ellipses

Wikipedia: Ellipses – Perhaps the most complicated punctuation mark article I have ever skimmed.  Goes into mathematical usage, worldwide usage, and more.

To read the Battleship Earth review, click here.


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Responses

  1. Are you talking to me?

    I am addicted to the elipse . . . and the dash ~ not a paragraph goes by that I don’t use one or the other.

    I find commas, colons, periods, and semi-colons too restricting. : )

    • Nope, not talking to anyone in particular except myself. There’s nothing wrong with using an ellipse in informal writing. I think it’s a fun way to write. But, when we must write “professionally” it is important to remember the rules.

  2. I didn’t know that about the spaces. Silly me.

    • I didn’t either, but it’s in the MLA handbook. Go figure.

  3. Thanks for the warning and, though you meant no one in particular, the well-deserved lesson! I am addicted to so many different forms of punctuation that even I get tired of them, but as I have said before…I write like I talk! (And yes, I get tired of listening to myself talk!) Don’t believe me? Take a look at my blog! 😀

  4. I’m forever telling students that three dots are enough and that adding more does not add any extra emphasis.

    Thanks for the excellent advice and information.

    • With texting and the abundance of chatspeak the problems are only going to get worse. Good luck!

  5. Great explanation of the use of ellipses. I think I need to make a few changes in my manuscript.

  6. […] The Ellipsis . . . Demystified:  A humorous punctuation lesson on the use of the “. . .”  After I published the post I realized that I had my terms mixed. An ellipse is a mathematical shape that looks like a squashed oval.  An ellipsis is the “. . . “  and ellipses is the plural form.  Goes to show that you learn something new everyday! […]


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