The Ellipsis: When to Use It, How to Make It

ellipsis spelled outWhen do you use an ellipsis, and how do you create one?

An ellipsis (plural: ellipses) is three sequential dots (periods) that can show:

    • an omission of words, phrases or even sentences from an original statement or document
    • a pause greater than is indicated by a comma
    • a trailing off of thought

Let’s consider what two primary style guides say about ellipsis use: the Associated Press Stylebook (my preference) and the Chicago Manual of Style.

ASSOCIATED PRESS ELLIPSIS

An AP ellipsis is a series of three dots with a space before and after but no space between each dot. ( … )

Omission or Deletion

An ellipsis indicates that something has been left out of the original statement:

Original

“Mr. Hayward, whose position is thought to be under threat, risked further fury by continuing plans to pay a dividend to investors next month.”

Edited

“Mr. Hayward … risked further fury by continuing plans to pay a dividend to investors next month.”

Original

“In the short term, we want these claims to be responded to more quickly,” the governor said. “These people need help, and we need to be there to try to make them as whole as we can during this difficult process.”

Edited

“In the short term, we want these claims to be responded to more quickly,” the governor said. “These people need help. …”

(note: When an ellipsis falls at the end of an edited sentence, create a space between the period and the ellipsis.)

Pause

Here, multiple ellipses indicate pauses in a speaker’s statement:

He stammered, “I … I … I wanted to … um … I tried to … well, I really thought I could get it done by this afternoon. I was wrong.”

Trailing off of thought

And here is how an ellipsis would show a thought that trails off:

“I tried and tried to convince him, but I couldn’t. Oh, well …”

(note: No period is required with this ellipsis usage.)

CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE ELLIPSIS

A CMS ellipsis is three dots with a space before and after the series as well as a space between each dot. ( . . . )

Omission or Deletion

Original

“Mr. Hayward, whose position is thought to be under threat, risked further fury by continuing plans to pay a dividend to investors next month.”

Edited

“Mr. Hayward . . . risked further fury by continuing plans to pay a dividend to investors next month.”

 

Original

“In the short term, we want these claims to be responded to more quickly,” the governor said. “These people need help, and we need to be there to try to make them as whole as we can during this very difficult process.”

 

Edited

“In the short term, we want these claims to be responded to more quickly,” the governor said. “These people need help. . . .”

(note: When a CMS ellipsis follows a period, it can appear to be a four-dot ellipsis. However, this is not the case. If the sentence ended with a question mark or exclamation point, the closing punctuation mark still would be followed by a space and the three-dot ellipsis.)

Pause

He stammered, “I . . . I . . .  I wanted to . . . um . . . I tried to . . . well, I really thought I could get it done by this afternoon. I was wrong.”

Trailing Off of Thought

“I tried and tried to convince him, but I couldn’t. Oh, well . . .”

(note: As with AP, no period is required with this CMS ellipsis usage.)

Ellipses Not Needed with Partial Quotations

When you delete something from the beginning or end of a direct quotation, or when you use a partial quotation, what remains does not need to represented by an ellipsis:

original:

“These people need help, and we need to be there to try to make them as whole as we can during this difficult process.”

edited:

“We need to be there to try to make them as whole as we can,” the governor said.

Not: “… We need to be there to try to make them as whole as we can … ,” the governor said.

Not: The governor said that we need to be there “… to try to make them as whole as we can …” as soon as possible.

There are more circumstances that involve ellipsis use, but the guidelines and examples here cover the most common.

As with other grammatical practices, decide which style you prefer and use it consistently.

For further consideration:

If you use a Mac, press option+semicolon to create an ellipsis that won’t break at the end of a line.

If you use a PC, this post might be helpful. If you have tips on how to create a CMS ellipsis that won’t break at the end of a line, please share!

 

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

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