How to use ellipses

In informal writing, an ellipsis can be used to represent a trailing off of thought.

Example

If only she had . . . Oh, it doesn’t matter now.

An ellipsis can also indicate hesitation, though in this case the punctuation is more accurately described as suspension points.

Example

I wasn’t really . . . well, what I mean . . . see, the thing is . . . I didn’t mean it.

Like the exclamation point, the ellipsis is at risk of overuse.

It is rarely necessary to use ellipsis points at the beginning of a quotation, even if the quotation begins mid-sentence. It is also usually acceptable to change the capitalization of the first word of the quotation to match the surrounding material. (When a change in capitalization must be acknowledged, you should use brackets, as explained here.)

Example

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams,” writes Thoreau, “he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” Moreover, Thoreau claims that “in proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex.”

When a quotation is included within a larger sentence, do not use ellipsis points at the beginning or end of the quoted material, even if the beginning or end of the original sentence has been omitted.

Correct

When Thoreau argues that by simplifying one’s life, “the laws of the universe will appear less complex,” he introduces an idea explored at length in his subsequent writings.

Incorrect

When Thoreau argues that by simplifying one’s life, “⁠. . . the laws of the universe will appear less complex, . . .⁠” he introduces an idea explored at length in his subsequent writings.

When a quotation is placed at the end of a sentence, but the quoted material is only part of a larger sentence, authorities differ on the use of ellipsis points. The Chicago Manual of Style allows the use of a sentence-terminating period; the MLA Handbook requires ellipsis points.

Chicago style

Thoreau argues that by simplifying one’s life, “the laws of the universe will appear less complex.”

Could anyone other than Thoreau have written, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost”?

MLA style places the sentence-terminating period immediately after the last word of the quotation, even though a period does not occur there in the original material. The three ellipsis points are then placed after this sentence-terminating period.

MLA style

Thoreau argues that by simplifying one’s life, “the laws of the universe will appear less complex. . . .”

Could anyone other than Thoreau have written, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost . . .”?

When using MLA-style parenthetical references, the sentence-terminating period is placed outside the parenthetical reference.

MLA style

Thoreau argues that by simplifying one’s life, “the laws of the universe will appear less complex . . .” (152).

Use ellipsis points to show omission within the quotation. Omit any punctuation on either side of the ellipsis, unless the punctuation is necessary to make the shortened quotation grammatically correct.

Example

“I learned this . . . : that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, . . . he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

In the example above, the colon in the original is needed to introduce the thing that Thoreau learned. The comma after “dreams” is necessary to separate a dependent clause from an independent clause.

When a quotation is presented as a single sentence made up of material from two or more original sentences, ellipses should be used for all omitted segments.

Example

Thoreau believes that “if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, . . . he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.”

When quoted material is presented as multiple sentences, four dots should be used for omissions between two or more original sentences; three dots should be used for omissions within a single original sentence.

In the example below, MLA style requires an ellipsis at the end of the quotation, indicating that a portion of the original sentence has been omitted. Chicago style would omit the final ellipsis and terminate the sentence with a single period.

Example

Thoreau notes: “I learned . . . that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, . . . he will meet with . . . success. . . . He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary. . . . In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex. . . .”

When to Use Ellipses

The ellipsis, those three consecutive periods you often see in novels and news stories, is among the most misunderstood punctuation marks in use in the English language.

It is used indiscriminately in text messages, instant messages, and emails, and social networking websites and blogs haven't helped to curb the trend. However, the ellipsis is an actual punctuation mark that serves a particular use, in both formal and informal styles of writing.

If using ellipses confuses you, try following some of these simple guidelines as to when ellipses should be used-and when they should not.

Before discussing when ellipses are appropriately used, a few words on how the ellipsis is used are necessary.

  • An ellipsis makes up for a missing piece of text, or allows for a pause in writing.
  • According to various style guides, an ellipsis is three periods, with a space in between each [ . . . ]. In general, there is also a space before and after the ellipsis. Some style manuals prefer three dots with no spaces in between [ … ], and others still prefer the auto-formatted version of the ellipsis, with less than a full space in between each dot […]. Although this is less common now.
  • Until very recently, the Modern Language Association (MLA) required brackets before and after ellipses (as seen above); however, the use of such brackets has declined in recent years. Although brackets are still technically correct, they are largely deemed unnecessary.

News stories compile information to disseminate to the population, and news agencies depend on the accuracy of a news story in order to gain the confidence of an audience.

Sometimes when a quote is used in a news story, parts of the quote are unnecessary to the story. When some of a quote must be removed to improve the clarity or focus of a story, an ellipsis is used.

How to Use Ellipses in APA Style – Enago Academy

An ellipsis is a series of three periods (also called “ellipsis points” or “ellipsis dots”) that are used to replace missing or purposely omitted text. In most cases, an ellipsis is used within quotations, but it is also used in conversations to indicate a pause or unfinished thought, as in the following example:

I’m going to the store to get . . . oh, I don’t remember.

There are rules for inserting ellipses into text depending on the style guide used. The American Psychological Association (APA) and Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) have similar styles for formatting ellipses. The Modern Language Association (MLA) suggests surrounding an ellipsis with brackets. Here, we discuss the APA protocols for writers when using an ellipsis.

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The Basics

The following are the basic guidelines for using an ellipsis in the APA format.

  • Use three periods with space before and after each (e.g., “ . . . ”).
  • Do not use brackets around your ellipsis.
  • Use four periods for omitted text at the end of a sentence, with no space before the first period that indicates the end of the sentence (e.g., “End of previous sentence. . . . Next sentence.”).
  • Do not use an ellipsis at the beginning or end of a quoted passage unless necessary for clarity.
  • An ellipsis should be considered a “unit” of punctuation; therefore, the three (or four) periods must always be kept together.
  • A period follows the sentence that precedes an ellipsis at the beginning of the next line.
  • Four is the maximum number of spaced periods in an ellipsis.

There are some pitfalls to watch out for when using ellipses. Using them too often in your text might be cumbersome to the reader; therefore, insert them sparingly and when necessary. Use an m-dash (—) instead for interrupted dialogue.

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Caution

Exercise caution when using ellipses and omitting text. Be sure to check your text carefully to avoid any of the following issues.

  • When writing for any discipline that uses the APA style, do not use the automatic ellipsis codes. These will not insert a space between the periods. For example, the Unicode 2026, which sometimes suggests inserting an ellipsis, appears without spaces (“…”). If using APA style, this would be incorrect and would need to be replaced with three spaced periods.
  • Make sure that when you omit text, you do not change the meaning of the sentence, especially when omitting words or phrases in quoted text.
  • Make sure that you do not create grammatical errors by omitting text.

Quotes and Ellipses

As mentioned, ellipses are most often used to signify omitted text in quotations, but they need not be used when simply using a quotation mid-sentence. For example:

Original sentence: “Stars have disproportionately high and prolonged performance, visibility, and relevant social capital, and there are minimum thresholds for each that must be attained to be a star.”

Quotation used in text: One theory of exceptional employee behavior posits that star employees “have disproportionately high and prolonged performance, visibility, and relevant social capital” (Call, Nyberg, & Thatcher, 2015, p. 630).

Note how the authors of the piece in which the quoted material was used have written the text in a way such that no ellipsis is necessary for the omitted text. It would be incorrect to do the following:

One theory of exceptional employee behavior posits that star employees “. . . have disproportionately high and prolonged performance, visibility, and relevant social capital. . .” (Call, Nyberg, & Thatcher, 2015, p. 630).

In this case, the omitted text was not important to the message and was deleted; the remaining text was surrounded by double quotation marks; no ellipsis was necessary.

What about quotations that comprise more than one sentence? What would be the correct punctuation of each subsequent sentence (i.e., capitalize the first word)?

Consider the following quotation:

“Beyond competitive pay and deep networks, stars—more than others—may be motivated to remain with organizations that provide opportunities to influence others or be involved in strategic decision-making.

For example, a star union leader who is trusted to negotiate on behalf of membership may be motivated by nonfinancial opportunities, such as the chance to be seen as a leader, and hence, appealing to self-enhancement and self-expansion motives as described earlier.

Thus, providing such influence opportunities may help organizations retain stars more than they help retain other employees.”

Again, we would use four ellipsis periods at the end of one sentence and before the beginning of the next sentence. The following excerpt shows how the writer interpreted the above quotation and how he or she joined the sentences using an ellipsis:

Call et al. (2015) theorized that star employees “may be motivated to remain with organizations that provide opportunities to influence others or be involved in strategic decision-making. . . . providing such influence opportunities may help organizations retain stars more than they help retain other employees” (p. 633).

Note the four ellipsis points after “decision-making” signifies the end of the sentence. The first word in second quoted sentence is not capitalized and that quotation marks are used around the entire passage.

Other Punctuations

When using other punctuations with ellipses, such as commas, colons, and semicolons, their placement depends on where the omitted text is replaced by an ellipsis. If the ellipsis comes before the punctuation, the punctuation follows it with no breaking spaces (e.g., “ . . . ;”).

If the ellipsis follows the punctuation, the punctuation precedes it (e.g., “ , . . .”). Note the spacing in each example. It is important to recognize the different protocols among different style guides.

Be sure to follow the appropriate format designated in the style guide for your discipline during manuscript formatting.

References

Chelsea Lee (2015, May 27) Punctuation Junction: Quotation Marks and Ellipses. Retrieved from http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2015/05/punctuation-junction-quotation-marks-and-ellipses.html

Using Ellipses to Indicate Omitted Words

An ellipsis consists of either three or four periods, or dots. A single dot is called an ellipsis point. The definition is pretty straightforward, but using ellipses can be tricky.

Writers use ellipses for various reasons. An ellipsis can indicate the omission of words in the middle of a quoted sentence or the omission of sentences within a quoted paragraph. And in creative writing, the ellipsis might indicate that the speaker has trailed off and left a sentence or thought unfinished.

An ellipsis that indicates the omission of one or more words within a sentence consists of three spaced dots. In such cases, in addition to the spaces between the dots, we insert one space before the first ellipsis point and another space after the last dot as well.

For the sake of discussion, let’s use the following passage as our quoted text, taken from page 78 of a hypothetical county constitution:

An elected member’s seat will be considered vacant if the member misses three or more consecutive meetings of the council without a reasonable excuse. A council member may miss a meeting because of personal illness or a family emergency but should not be absent because of vacations, business trips, or other meetings.

Using Medial Ellipses

Here is an example of how we would quote from the first sentence of that passage while omitting the phrase “of the council”:

The constitution states that council members will forfeit their seats if they miss “three or more consecutive meetings . . . without a reasonable excuse” (County Constitution 78).

Because the phrase “of the council” is not necessary in this context and because removing that phrase does not change the intended meaning of the original text or mislead the reader in any way, we can omit it. The three-dot ellipsis lets the reader know that our quotation omits some words but is all taken from the same sentence in the original text. This is called the medial ellipsis.

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Using Terminal Ellipses

Sometimes we need to omit words from the end of one sentence but continue to quote from subsequent sentences. Editors and style books differ in their handling of this type of ellipsis, often called the terminal ellipsis.

Some style manuals require that we use three spaced dots, just as we would for an omission within a sentence while others advocate the use of four spaced dots. The fourth dot indicates the period at the end of the sentence that we have not entirely quoted; it lets our reader know that the quotation borrows from more than one sentence of the original text.

Notice that with terminal ellipses, we put no space between the first ellipsis point and the last word in the quoted text. The first ellipsis point indicates the end of the sentence from which the first part of the quotation has been taken, while the other ellipses points indicate that we have omitted words in another sentence (or other sentences) prior to the remainder of the quotation:

The constitution states that council members will forfeit their seats if they miss “three or more consecutive meetings of the council. . . . because of vacations, business trips, or other meetings” (County Constitution 78).

What about at the Beginning or End of a Quotation?

Most style manuals encourage us not to use ellipses at the beginning or end of a quotation except in rare cases:

The constitution explains under what conditions a council member’s seat “will be considered vacant” (78).

In cases where we have no parenthetical documentation, we use a period (which always goes inside the quotation marks):

The constitution explains under what conditions a council member’s seat “will be considered vacant.”

Omissions Must Not Change Meaning

Of course, when omitting material from a source text, we must be very careful never to skew the intended meaning of a passage. We are ethically obliged to use care when omitting another writer’s words so as to represent the intended meaning honestly and accurately.

Ellipses in Creative Writing

Another use for the ellipsis is to indicate that a sentence trails off, unfinished: “We thought the doors were locked, but just to be sure . . .” This type of terminal ellipsis always consists of three spaced dots, rather than four, with no space between the last dot and the closing quotation marks.

We generally avoid this construction in expository writing—including business writing—because we want our thoughts to be clear and complete. An unfinished, incomplete construction is more appropriate in informal or creative writing.

Ellipses Do Not Substitute for Other Appropriate Punctuation

Occasionally we encounter writers who use ellipses widely and without discretion in place of other punctuation marks. Such usage is always inappropriate in professional contexts.

Not only does this construction make writers appear vague and uncertain (even, perhaps, as if they are not confident about using other marks of punctuation), but the writing is difficult to read in the absence of more appropriate punctuation, such as semicolons, colons, and dashes.

© 2005 Get It Write. Revised 2020

How to Use Ellipses According to AP Style

One of the more commonly misused and overused punctuation marks is the ellipsis. I’ve encountered far too many maddening late-night emails literally dotted with ellipses signifying either incoherent thought or implied mischief.

Another writing pet peeve is the online use of “to be continued” hooks, which use ellipses to hang stories mid-sentence and keep audiences clicking through. If you’re wondering how to use ellipses properly in AP-style writing, read on.

Ellipses vs. Ellipsis

To begin with, even the terminology can be a bit tricky. Although typing an ellipsis may involve multiple keystrokes, the dots are actually collectively a single punctuation mark, and ellipsis is accordingly a singular noun. Instead of visualizing multiple dots, it may help to think of an ellipsis as a single “dot-dot-dot” mark.

The plural form of the noun is ellipses. Once again, when dealing with multiple ellipses, rather than visualizing more dots, consider them as several distinct “dot-dot-dot” marks. The precise number of dots per ellipsis should not vary. Each single dot in an ellipsis is called an ellipsis point, by the way, and is rendered using a period.

How Many Dots Does an Ellipsis Have?

Authorities agree that an ellipsis should consist of exactly three consecutive dots placed together on the same line, but the prescribed spacing varies from guide to guide.

According to the AP Stylebook, which is used by most journalistic publications and by BKA for our SEO content, you should treat an ellipsis as a three-letter word consisting of three periods with no spaces in between.

Spaces should only be inserted before or after the ellipsis as necessary to separate it from other words.

Example:

  • An ellipsis … consists of three periods.

If the ellipsis follows a grammatically complete sentence, place a period after the last word preceding the ellipsis, and insert a space between this period and the ellipsis.

Example:

  • Ellipses can be tricky. … Use with care.

Apply the same punctuation sequence when the grammar preceding an ellipsis calls for a question mark, exclamation point, comma or colon.

Example:

  • Where should the ellipsis go? … That was easy.

Condensing Quotes in Formal Writing

In formal writing, the primary function of an ellipsis is to indicate that something has been omitted for the purpose of condensing text. This enables you to efficiently quote material that may contain parts inconsequential to the immediate focus.

Example:

  • Without ellipsis: “After much deliberation, I decided yesterday that it was time for me to retire from this sport, hopefully leaving me enough healthy years to pursue my passion for writing.”
  • With ellipsis: “I decided … it was time for me to retire from this sport,” said the seven-time champion.
  • As illustrated in the example above, you should avoid using ellipses at the beginning or end of a direct quote.
  • If an omission includes the end of one paragraph and the beginning of another, use ellipses in both places:
  • Example:
  • Regarding this morning’s incident, …

… Let us speak no further of it.

When condensing quotes, be careful not to alter the original meaning. Even if a change is subtle and unintentional, any distortion is a serious issue.

Example:

  • Original: The life of Anne Hathaway, William Shakespeare’s wife, has been researched with great interest by generations of historians.
  • Distorted: The life of Anne Hathaway … has been researched with great interest by generations of historians.
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In the example above, the omission may mislead readers to believe that a different person named Anne Hathaway is being discussed.

Using Ellipses for Effect

Ellipses may also appear in literature and less formal writing to denote incomplete thoughts. In such cases, an ellipsis may indicate a pause, a trailing off or something purposefully left unsaid.

Examples:

  • You wouldn’t expect the captain of a battleship to be so … cute.
  • He’ll never be a pop idol, but …

Using ellipses to indicate incomplete thoughts should generally be avoided in formal writing. The effect such usage achieves is a sense of either uncertainty or indirectness. Neither is typically desirable in strong business or journalistic writing.

An AP-Only Approach to Ellipses

The AP Stylebook additionally covers a somewhat peculiar “special effects” case for ellipses. In gossip and show business columns, ellipses may be inserted to separate multiple items grouped into a single rambling paragraph.

Example:

  • Sources will neither confirm nor deny that a “Lust for Life” sequel is in development. This may be because no one has asked. … Hackers managed to increase the governor’s social media following by 9,000 percent after hijacking his account to post adorable cat videos. … In this writer’s humble opinion, there are not nearly enough space-themed movies.

This usage is highly specialized and should be avoided outside the specified narrow context.

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The Ellipsis

An ellipsis [ ] proves to be a handy device when you're quoting material and you want to omit some words.

The ellipsis consists of three evenly spaced dots (periods) with spaces between the ellipsis and surrounding letters or other marks.

Let's take the sentence, “The ceremony honored twelve brilliant athletes from the Caribbean who were visiting the U.S.” and leave out “from the Caribbean who were”:

The ceremony honored twelve brilliant athletes … visiting the U.S.

If the omission comes after the end of a sentence, the ellipsis will be placed after the period, making a total of four dots. … See how that works? Notice that there is no space between the period and the last character of the sentence.

The ellipsis can also be used to indicate a pause in the flow of a sentence and is especially useful in quoted speech:

Juan thought and thought … and then thought some more.
“I'm wondering …” Juan said, bemused.

Note carefully the spacing of the ellipsis marks and the surrounding characters in the examples above.

In mid-sentence, a space should appear between the first and last ellipsis marks and the surrounding letters.

If a quotation is meant to trail off (as in Juan's bemused thought), leave a space between the last letter and the first ellipsis mark but do not include a period with the ellipsis marks.

If words are left off at the end of a sentence, and that is all that is omitted, indicate the omission with ellipsis marks (preceded and followed by a space) and then indicate the end of the sentence with a period … .

 If one or more sentences are omitted, end the sentence before the ellipsis with a period and then insert your ellipsis marks with a space on both sides. … As in this example.

A coded ellipsis (used in the construction of this page) will appear tighter (with less of a space between the dots) than the use of period-space-period-space-period.

When words at the beginning of a quoted sentence are omitted, it is not necessary to use an ellipsis to indicate that words have been left out when that fragment can fit into the flow of your text. An exception: in a blockquoted fragment, use an ellipsis to indicate an omission:

According to Quirk and Greenbaum, the distinctions are unimportant … for count nouns with specific reference to definite and indefinite pronouns.

However, if the material quoted can be read as a complete sentence, simply capitalize the first word of the material and leave out the ellipsis marks:

This principle is described by Quirk and Greenbaum:
The distinctions for count nouns with specific reference to definite and indefinite pronouns remain unimportant.

When a lengthy quotation begins with a complete sentence and ends with a complete sentence, do not use an ellipsis at either the end or the beginning of the quotation unless it is, for some reason, important to emphasize that some language has been omitted.*

The ellipsis should be regarded as one unit and should not be broken at the end of a line. Toward that end, it is useful to know the code that will create an unbroken and unbreakable ellipsis for you on the word-processing program you are using.

On most machines, it's a simple matter of holding down the option key and hitting the semicolon, but this varies from program to program. To avoid problems when you reformat a paper (change margins, font sizes, etc.

), the spaces that surround the ellipsis should also be created as “non-breaking spaces.”

The MLA Handbook

How To Use an Ellipsis… Correctly

Joe here. Please note that I created the title above as an intentionally incorrect use of ellipses. I realized while writing it that if I didn’t tell you it was incorrect, Liz might stab me in the eye with her red pen. Anyway, on to the post!

Liz here. Here at the Write Practice, we have love for all punctuation marks: commas, semicolons, question marks. Today we’re discussing that trio of periods that make up the ellipsis.

What’s an ellipsis?

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What Is An Ellipsis?

An ellipsis is a trio of periods (…) that serve as a placeholder for text. It’s most commonly used in undergraduate history papers that require copious citations.

For example, the writer Oscar Wilde says in The Picture of Dorian Gray:

“Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, and vivid, and cruel! One could not escape from them. And yet what a subtle magic there was in them! They seemed to be able to give a plastic form to formless things, and to have a music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of lute. Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?”

If I were editing this quote to be used in newsprint, where type space is precious, I might use an ellipsis to make it read as such:

Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, and vivid, and cruel! One could not escape from them. And yet what a subtle magic there was in them! … Was there anything so real as words?

The idea of the text is preserved, and space is conserved.

Easy Keyboard Shortcut for… an Ellipsis

  • By the way, there’s an easy keyboard shortcut for an ellipses too.
  • Here’s the shortcut for a single-character ellipsis:
  • alt/option + semicolon (;)

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