Ellipses

By Stacie Heaps
Professional Writer and Editor

The ellipsis mark consists of three periods separated by spaces. When used in the middle of a sentence, it is almost always preceded and followed by a space, as well.

When creating ellipses in a word processor or similar program, it is best to use non-breaking spaces (in many applications, Ctrl + Shift + Space or Option + Space) between the three periods (and any following punctuation mark, such as a comma) so that the ellipsis does not break across lines.

Examples: 

“Maybe,” the author had written, “the best course of action ... is doing nothing at all.”

You know, after talking it over, I still can’t decide ..., but I hope to make a decision soon.

Omitting Material in Quotations

When restating or quoting something that has been previously said, information that is left out of the quote, or omitted, can be represented by ellipses.

Examples: 

In his definitive work on the subject, Johnson said that “every person ... should put his or her resolve to the test.”
According to this article, “The best remedy ... is to get enough sleep.”

When the omitted material comes at the beginning or end of a sentence that will be part of a longer quoted passage, then a period (or other end punctuation) and an ellipsis mark should both be used. In the first example below, the omitted material comes at the end of the first sentence, and so the ellipses come before the closing punctuation mark (in this case, a period). In the second example, on the other hand, the first sentence is complete and the omitted text comes at the beginning of the second sentence, so there should be no space between the actual period and the last word of the first sentence. The following ellipsis should be spaced as normal.

Examples: 

In his new book, the author asks, “Just look what has happened in the past 20 years .... The landscape of America is changing even faster than predicted.”
According to the survey, “The number of Americans who have died of lung cancer has decreased by 20 percent in the last five years. ... This is very encouraging news for those who have been promoting healthy lifestyles.”

When words are omitted at the beginning of a quoted passage, it is not necessary to use ellipses to indicate the omission as long as the text fits the construction of the sentence.

Examples: 

John read from page 7 of the owner’s manual, “Battery must be charged before use.”
In the first chapter it says that “the average number of children in each household has actually increased in the last ten years.”

However, if it is important to let readers know that text has been deleted at the beginning of the passage or if the quoted material does not fit the construction of the surrounding text, then ellipses should be used.

Examples: 

In her concluding remarks, the opposing counsel said that “...in this and so many other instances, two wrongs won’t make a right.”

When a quotation begins with a complete sentence and ends with a complete sentence, an ellipsis is not necessary at the beginning or end of the passage unless it is important to emphasize that some text has been omitted (as in the examples above). However, when you omit one or more paragraphs within a lengthy quotation, do use an ellipsis mark after the last punctuation mark in the paragraph that precedes the omission.

Example: “I slipped up to bed, feeling ruther blue, on accounts of the thing playing out that way after I had took so much trouble and run so much resk about it. Says I, if it could stay where it is, all right; because when we get down the river a hundred mile or two I could write back to Mary Jane, and she could dig him up again and get it; but that ain’t the thing that's going to happen; the thing that's going to happen is, the money’ll be found when they come to screw on the lid. Then the king 'll get it again, and it 'll be a long day before he gives anybody another chance to smouch it from him. Of course I WANTED to slide down and get it out of there, but I dasn't try it. Every minute it was getting earlier now, and pretty soon some of them watchers would begin to stir, and I might get catched—catched with six thousand dollars in my hands that nobody hadn't hired me to take care of. I don't wish to be mixed up in no such business as that, I says to myself.

“When I got down stairs in the morning the parlor was shut up, and the watchers was gone. There warn't nobody around but the family and the widow Bartley and our tribe. I watched their faces to see if anything had been happening, but I couldn't tell....

“Then the people begun to flock in, and the beats and the girls took seats in the front row at the head of the coffin, and for a half an hour the people filed around slow, in single rank, and looked down at the dead man's face a minute, and some dropped in a tear, and it was all very still and solemn, only the girls and the beats holding handkerchiefs to their eyes and keeping their heads bent, and sobbing a little. There warn't no other sound but the scraping of the feet on the floor and blowing noses—because people always blows them more at a funeral than they do at other places except church.” (From The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain)

In addition, use ellipses at the beginning of the paragraph following the long omission, as well, if you omit text that comes at the beginning of that paragraph.

Example: “I slipped up to bed, feeling ruther blue, on accounts of the thing playing out that way after I had took so much trouble and run so much resk about it. Says I, if it could stay where it is, all right; because when we get down the river a hundred mile or two I could write back to Mary Jane, and she could dig him up again and get it; but that ain't the thing that's going to happen; the thing that's going to happen is, the money 'll be found when they come to screw on the lid. Then the king 'll get it again, and it 'll be a long day before he gives anybody another chance to smouch it from him. Of course I WANTED to slide down and get it out of there, but I dasn't try it. Every minute it was getting earlier now, and pretty soon some of them watchers would begin to stir, and I might get catched—catched with six thousand dollars in my hands that nobody hadn't hired me to take care of. I don't wish to be mixed up in no such business as that, I says to myself.

When I got down stairs in the morning the parlor was shut up, and the watchers was gone. There warn't nobody around but the family and the widow Bartley and our tribe. I watched their faces to see if anything had been happening, but I couldn't tell....

...There warn't no other sound but the scraping of the feet on the floor and blowing noses—because people always blows them more at a funeral than they do at other places except church.” (Same passage from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain)

If the text is set off as a block quote, the quotation marks are omitted, but the same guidelines outlined above apply in the use of ellipses.

As shown in the examples above, when ellipses are used at the beginning or end of a quotation, they should be spaced as normal.

Missing or Illegible Text

When reproducing material from an original document, missing or illegible text can be represented by ellipses.

Examples: 

“On the 3rd of March, the captains got together and ... before leading their soldiers into battle.

Brackets can also be used (alone or with ellipses) to indicate missing or illegible text. For more information, see “Parentheses and Brackets.”

Indicating a Pause or Break in Speech
The ellipsis mark can also be used in text to indicate a pause, particularly in speech.

Examples: 

Luke tried and tried to find a solution ... but he just couldn’t figure it out.
Phyllis said, “I’m ... I’m wondering ... do you think we could still make it to the meeting?”

If spoken dialogue or a thought is meant to trail off, a space should follow the last letter before the first ellipsis point, but no final period should be used.

Examples: 

The director asked himself, Where could we go if...

“I was just thinking...” Doug said.

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