The Art of Ellipses

The bit of punctuation that trips up the most people seems to be the ellipsis, the series of dots that indicate either a long pause or that text is missing. The use of ellipses depends on a few contingencies, first of which is the genre.

In fiction or more creative work, ellipses are used to indicate speech trailing off:

She looked appalled. “I can’t believe it. He just . . .”

In nonfiction work, ellipses are used to show that text has been removed to shorten quotes.

The second contingency is whether to use three dots or four. Really, it’s the same method, but the fourth dot is simply the closing period of a sentence before the ellipsis.

In his speech, Martin Luther King Jr. states, “We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. . . . Now is the time to rise . . . to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”

In the first instance of ellipsis, we deleted text after a completed sentence, thus using four dots: a period and an ellipsis. In the second instance, we cut text from the middle of a sentence, thus using just the ellipsis.

Note that in nonfiction, ellipses should not begin or end a quote. The reader will assume that the quoted text is taken from a larger work.

When using ellipses with other punctuation, be sure to leave a space:

. . . ?

, . . .

. . . :

and so on.

The placement of the ellipsis in regard to the other punctuation is based on where you are cutting text. For instance, if the text is before the question mark, the ellipsis also comes before the question mark.

Enjoy the pause this punctuation brings!

Dash It All!

To folks outside the publishing industry, the various dash lengths available can be quite confusing. Hyphen, en dash, em dash . . . what’s the difference? And how do you get your keyboard to do that?

As Chicago Manual of Style 6.75 states, “Though many readers may not notice the differenceespecially between an en dash and a hyphencorrect use of the different types is a sign of editorial precision and care.” So let’s take a moment to look at each. Here are examples of all the dash lengths in relation to one another:


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