Punctuation Tip: The Ellipsis

When people omit certain words in written discourse, they tend to put periods at the place of the omitted word. Certain people make sentences like the following:

“No, wait…..” he shouted.


They tend to put several dots to describe some pause or omitted words, as in the above example. In English, however, a special punctuation mark is available to show this omission, the Ellipsis, so you don’t have to put too many dots to show it. The ellipsis is a series of three periods with spaces on both ends. The dots may or may not be spaced.

“No, wait …” he shouted.

Using Ellipsis

Using ellipses to omit certain words is similar to Elliptical clauses (elliptical constructions). Ellipses are used in intentional omission of words usually in reported conversation. It indicates an abeyance in speech, an incomplete thought, or a silence at the end of a sentence.

Ellipses can end a sentence, as I mentioned before. In such case, the ellipsis together with the full stop will form four dots.

He thought it would be all right, but … .

The last dot is the sentence’s end, and not part of the ellipsis.

Consecutive ellipses can appear in sentences separated by spaces. If an ellipsis appears at the end of a sentence, then add the ellipsis before the period, spaced at both sides.

John marked the file closed … .

When some sentences or thoughts are omitted in between two sentences, it can be indicated by an ellipsis in between the sentences, as in:

John marked the file closed. … The file had to be reopened.

Disputes in Typography

Certain authorities, for instance the Modern Language Association (MLA), state that in all places the ellipses should have spaces before and after, though many people prefer to avoid them. The Elements of Typographic Style by Canadian typographer, Robert Bringhurst suggests using ellipsis according to the preference of the writer and the typeface used.

In US legal writing, each of the dots in the ellipses is separated by spaces.

Copyright © Lenin Nair 2008

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