What is the definition of an ellipsis and how is it properly used? Inquiring minds want to know. Look to the image for a hint . . .
In grammar, an ellipsis is a single punctuation mark comprised of 3 consecutive dots.
Depending on your style guide, the dots can be crunched together like this ... or spaced like this . . .
How is the ellipsis properly used?
#1: An ellipsis can stand in for omitted words. This is super handy when grabbing lengthy quotes for your high school essays and professional documents.
Here's an example from The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming, page 46:
"One item the empress did not stint on was the girls' clothing. She liked to outfit the grand duchesses by pairs in matching and expensive dresses ... long hair was tied back with blue satin bows." (The ellipsis stands in for a family friend's description of the clothing.)
#2) In written dialogue, the ellipsis can indicate speech that tapers off, is interrupted by another speaker, or signifies a pause.
"It's not fair that you always ..."
(This could signify interruption or tapering off)
"I'm not sure ... let me think about it for awhile."
(This is a pause in dialogue.)
Why do we sometimes see four dots instead of 3?
That happens when the ellipsis follows a period. Here's another quote from The Family Romanov, page 184:
"The soldiers did little to stop this. Not long ago, just a glimpse of the tsar would have sent them to their knees. . . . One could hardly blame them for their gaping and mocking."
Are there spaces on either side of an ellipsis?
Yes, with the exception of a question mark, which should follow an ellipsis without a space.
Can any other punctuation stand in for the ellipsis?
The em dash can be substituted for the ellipsis in dialogue. That's the longest dash, roughly the width of the letter M.
Do's and Don'ts:
Choose your style and stick with it. In case you're wondering, the ... crunched together way is from the AP Stylebook. The . . . spaced apart way is from the Chicago Manual of Style. Don't switch back and forth between M dashes and ellipses, either. One final point: avoid starting a sentence with an ellipsis.
I sincerely hope that answered your ellipsis questions! Please, keep those questions coming!! I'll always do my best to answer them in easy-to-understand language.
Stay healthy and safe,
Laura Fineberg Cooper