The magical world of the ellipsis! Who doesn’t love using an ellipsis? I even use it when I’m talking. I’ll say something like “I don’t know if we should do this” and then say “dot, dot, dot.” Seriously!
The ellipsis is used when omitting words, plain and simple. Whether you’re writing a quote and leaving parts out because it’s too long, wanting to use the trailing-off tactic, showing a character’s hesitation, or adding tension in a story, the ellipsis can save space while also omitting unnecessary information. However you use it, the ellipses can come in handy.
It wasn’t until I started editing that I realized there was a specific number of periods that are required to create a proper ellipsis. What’s that number, you ask? Three. Just three magical dots (…).
As long as you only use three periods, the ellipsis is easy to figure out and use. There are two ways (per the Chicago Style) in which the ellipses can be used.
First example use:
“If we go that way . . .” (Spacing before and after the ellipsis and between the periods)
Second example use:
“If we go that way …” (Spacing before and after the ellipsis)
Notice the differences. Of the two choices above, I prefer the second example of using a space before and after the ellipsis. That’s just my preference though. Also, with the above example, the phrase leaves a little mystery since it isn’t clear what the writer is trying to say. If they go that way, what? What will happen, if anything? Of course, with more context, it might become apparent what’s going on, so the missing word(s) aren’t necessary.
Now many people believe there is a set way of doing the ellipsis, but after much research, I have determined that it’s all up to the person writing. The examples above are used in the trailing-off fashion. I’ll provide a variety of examples of how else they can be used below.
Okay, so here are some examples…
Using an ellipsis in the middle of a sentence (often to show the narrative or character trailing off):
“I really wish we could go there … but I understand.”
Using an ellipsis to show a character’s hesitation can be incorporated into the middle or the end of the dialogue.
“So … what are you trying to tell me?”
“Are you sure you wanna … ?”
Now … when using an ellipsis at the end of a sentence, make sure you provide the end punctuation as well. If you notice the last example above, it’s easy to tell the character was asking a question; so after the ellipsis (…) make sure to add in the question mark.
The following example shows an imperative statement; on a side note, a declarative statement would use the ellipsis in the same way. Since the ellipsis is used at the end of the sentence, I end it with the typical period and then the three dots for the ellipsis.
“Just do it. Open the door….”
This example shows an exclamation:
“I can’t believe you…!”
I’ve added the ellipsis (…) as well as the exclamation mark.
How about using an ellipsis in a quoted passage? Here’s an original quote from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:
“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now if we lose some of the words and add in an ellipsis, it could change to:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth … the proposition that all men are created equal.”
The ellipsis lets the reader know that this isn’t the entire quote, at least for this part of Lincoln’s speech. Yet, the gist of it is clear.
Heads up—with quoted passages, the ellipsis is not used at the very beginning of the passage or at the end.
What about the ellipsis in dialogue with a dialogue tag?
“He brought me to his house and we … we, kinda sorta fell into bed together…” Her cheeks became red as she trailed off and her eyes began examining the floorboards.
This is an example of trailing off (no words left out). Obviously, this female character is talking about something that makes her uncomfortable. Easy peasy!
Here’s a page with more helpful tips for working with the ellipsis: https://literaryterms.net/ellipsis/
I hope you have found this blog useful. If you have any questions, comments, concerns, jokes, funnies, please feel free to contact me. Thanks for reading!