EDITING 101: 30 – Ellipses…


Ahh, another point of grammar that’s frequently either overused or incorrectly used. And, in this case, it’s understandable! There are so many different ways to use ellipses.

First, we’ll start with the punctuation mark itself. Some authors use three dots in a row…which Microsoft Word will typically convert into an ellipsis character. An ellipsis character only takes up one character space, and can be deleted by backspacing one time. This ellipsis is scrunched together more than if there were simply three period/full stop marks.

Other authors like to use a space in between . . . like this. It’s spread out more and I think it looks nicer. The problem is when it comes at the end of a sentence that is automatically wrapped. I can’t demonstrate it here easily because this will be copied into WordPress . .

. but you’ll end up with something like this. Half of the ellipsis on one line, and the other half on the next line. Using an ellipsis character prevents this from happening.

Now, how to use ellipsis. The horror, the horror!

Sometimes an ellipsis indicates a pause, especially in dialogue…and then there are no spaces before or after the ellipsis character. This is true when a sentence continues, as I’ve demonstrated. If the pause precedes a new sentence, then you leave a space before the new sentence… Like this. And, of course, the new sentence starts with a capital letter.

An ellipsis can be used at the end of a dialogue sentence to indicate trailing off speech, or anywhere in a sentence to indicate interrupted speech:

  • Mary wasn’t sure what to say. “Well, I’d…”

  • I…well… I’m not sure.”

(Stuttering is usually accomplished with hyphens: I-I-I c-c-can’t do that t-t-today.)

In reference material, or in quotes, if you were leaving out information, then you’d leave a space on either side of the ellipsis mark.

  • Mr. Raid said, “When you’re writing about punctuation marks … you want it to be correct.”

What about other punctuation and an ellipsis? Nowadays, there is rarely any punctuation used with an ellipsis. In earlier times, you might find a comma after an ellipsis in a quote when material has been left out. The only exception to this rule is what is called the “four-dot method” of ellipses. That’s when an author chooses to end a sentence ending in an ellipsis with an additional period or full stop. So not only would you start the new sentence with a space and a capital letter…. You’d also use a fourth dot outside of the ellipsis character to indicate the end of a sentence. If you were using the style with spaces, it would look like this . . ..

You can do that if you’d like, but whichever method you choose, be consistent! I prefer the three-dot method, which makes all the ellipses the same no matter where they appear.

If you choose to use a spaced ellipsis . . . like this, you can insert non-breaking spaces (!!!) between the dots so that the ellipsis won’t break over a line!

On a Windows machine, you use insert a non-breaking space by hitting Ctrl+Shift+Spacebar. It doesn’t look any different at first glance, but if you turn on Show Formatting, the space is marked by a little open circle rather than just a dot.

Next week we’ll discuss ‘Referring to Technology in Your Writing’

To see the index and catch up with missed episodes of this series – CLICK HERE


This series is not meant to be (nor will it be) simple static information.

I’ll be here for each post to answer questions, offer suggestions as necessary, and interact with you.

If there’s something you specifically want (or need!) to see addressed in terms of self-editing, please let me know in the comments under this, or any of the articles of the series.





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