You’ve likely come across multiple ellipses while reading books, magazine articles, blog posts, and other written content.
However, you may not have known about the ellipsis (singular form of ellipses) and have wondered about its use at some point.
Well, you’ve come to the right place.
I wrote this guide to discuss the ellipsis in detail. I’ll talk about the meaning of the ellipsis, when and when not to use it, and more.
Table of Contents
What Is an Ellipsis in Writing?
An ellipsis (pronounced “ee-lihp-sis”) is a series of three dots (…) representing an omission of words. In some cases, it signifies the exclusion of two or more sentences. It’s also informally known as “dot dot dot” because it consists of three dots.
The term ellipsis is singular and refers to one series of three dots. The plural form is ellipses.
The ellipsis is a versatile punctuation mark.
Use an ellipsis correctly, and it can take your writing to the next level by making it more concise and impactful.
This punctuation mark can indicate hesitation, pause, silence, wandering or trailing thoughts, and confusion.
An ellipsis allows you to pause, stop abruptly, or emphasize specific parts of a sentence, whether it’s formal or informal writing. They are symbols that add clarity and precision to your written work.
What Are the Functions of an Ellipsis?
This series of three dots can elevate your writing and give more color to your story and dialogue.
It’s a powerful tool for various types of formal and informal writing.
The ellipsis has three primary uses.
It Replaces Omitted Words, Sentences, or Sections in a Text.
You can use an ellipsis to omit information at the beginning or end of a sentence or quote.
You can even use an ellipsis within a sentence when dealing with quotes.
If the omission is at the end of a sentence, you must insert the correct punctuation mark (ex., period, question mark, exclamation mark, etc.) at the end to make it a complete sentence.
It Indicates Trailing off Into Silence.
Use an ellipsis to indicate thoughts trailing or wandering at the end of a sentence.
Here are ellipsis examples to help you understand its use better.
- I was absorbed in thought, my future, my past…
- He was devastated…confused…
It Adds Suspense or Hesitation.
Ellipses can serve as suspension points indicating hesitation.
Use an ellipsis as a pause for more impactful writing.
Check the following examples.
- And her mind went blank…
- He wanted to tell the truth, but…
Different Ways to Write an Ellipsis
Style guides have different rules on using an ellipsis or ellipses in writing.
I’ll delve into the Chicago Manual of Style, the Modern Language Association (MLA) Style, and the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook.
Your method of writing an ellipsis or ellipses depends on one thing—the style guide you follow.
Whether or not you include a space between each dot depends on your style guide.
The Chicago Manual requires a space between each period in the ellipsis (. . .).
Meanwhile, the AP Stylebook doesn’t require a space between each dot (…).
However, if you follow the AP Style Guide, you must add a space between the ellipsis and other words.
The MLA Style requires a space after the first and second dot and another one after the last dot (ex., “He opened his eyes. . . his father was gone.”).
If you don’t follow a specific style guide or your job doesn’t require one, feel free to choose whichever rule works best for you.
However, stick to only one rule throughout all your writing to ensure consistency.
Regardless of the style guide you follow, an ellipsis has only three dots.
However, it can appear to have four in specific cases.
Here are some examples.
- I tried to wake him. … Is he up yet?
- I’m Lara. … My father is Mr. Weaver.
You’ll see four dots in both examples, but the ellipses only have three periods (or dots). It only appears as four dots because grammar rules dictate that you use the appropriate punctuation to end a sentence.
Three Dots in Formal and Informal Writing
You can find ellipses in news stories, fiction, and informal writing.
Writers use them to indicate a long pause, a trailing or wandering thought, and hesitation.
Ellipses are less common in formal writing. Authors in this type of writing use them only to indicate omissions in quotations.
Note that the intentional omission of words, sentences, or entire sections from a text shouldn’t alter the original meaning of the text in any way.
What Does an Ellipsis Mean in Texting?
Texting is casual written communication. Therefore, people are less strict on grammar rules.
After all, texting’s purpose is to get your message across as quickly as possible.
So what does the ellipsis mean in texting?
Note that ellipses in texting may have meanings different from their traditional use.
For example, many people use an ellipsis to indicate shock or disbelief. They may have found the message they received absurd.
Some people also use an ellipsis to tell you they are speechless (or even offended) by your message.
When Not to Use An Ellipsis
You now know when to use ellipses.
It would also help if you learned the six most common mistakes people make when using an ellipsis.
Trailing off for No Reason
One of the most common uses of an ellipsis is to demonstrate a trailing thought.
Unfortunately, some writers abuse this series of dots and other punctuation marks.
Compare these sentences
- I walked into the dark room.
- I walked into the dark room…
The trailing off in the second sentence indicates that the writer is hesitant to enter the room.
Readers can also interpret it as confusion and sense that something is amiss.
However, there’s no point in using an ellipsis if there’s no confusion or hesitation.
Using an Ellipsis as a Substitute for “Erm” or a Long Pause
Trailing off or pausing in the middle of sentences in spoken conversation is common and unavoidable.
Instead of using an ellipsis to indicate “erm” or a purposeful pause, it’s better to use an en-dash. Doing so lends confidence and impact to your writing.
Omitting Crucial Text of a Quote
An ellipsis can help you condense quotes. However, exercise caution when doing so to avoid changing the meaning or ideas of the quote.
Using Random Numbers.
Always use three dots when writing an ellipsis, regardless of your style guide.
Don’t use a two, four, or five-dot ellipsis.
You may have seen what you thought was a four-dot ellipsis at the end of some sentences.
However, what you see isn’t a series of four dots. Instead, it’s a period (to punctuate a single sentence), a space, and then the three-dot ellipsis.
Here’s an example.
- Robert looked at her. … She looked back.
Using an Ellipsis and Adding Nothing Else
Some writers put an ellipsis at the end of a sentence even though they don’t intend to add more words.
Here’s an example.
- That’s a great way to deal with the problem.
- That’s a great way to deal with the problem…
The second sentence suggests a trailing thought, but you can’t be sure because nothing follows.
Avoid using an ellipsis unless you want to indicate trailing thoughts and add more words or sentences.
Using an Ellipsis to Express Vagueness.
The inappropriate use of an ellipsis can make your writing vague.
One of the primary uses of an ellipsis is to omit words or sentences, helping writers articulate their ideas quickly and clearly.
Compare these two examples:
- Today, after months of careful thought, the lawmakers passed the bill.
- Today… the lawmakers passed the bill.
The first sentence is more precise and not vague like the second sentence, right?
Ellipsis, Colon, and Dash
Some writers incorrectly use an ellipsis, dash, and colon interchangeably because they signify breaks in the text.
While it’s true that the ellipsis and the dash both represent a pause, the en-dash indicates a more abrupt interruption. The ellipsis indicates a softer break.
The colon is a more deliberate break writers use to introduce a list, explanation, or quote. Unlike the dash and ellipsis, it doesn’t signify silence.
It’s worth noting that neither the dash nor colon represents omitted words—only the ellipsis can accomplish this.
The Bottom Line
I hope my guide has given you a more thorough understanding of the ellipsis, its uses, and its impact on your writing.
Remember to check the style guide you follow before using ellipses in your writing.
If you’re a creative writer, learning how to become a fortune cookie writer may interest you.