Using Ellipses

by admin on January 12, 2012

ellipsesPeople often ask how to use ellipses, those little dot-dot-dots you often see sometimes at the ends of sentences. When is it appropriate to use ‘…’ in writing? Is it something featured only in informal writing or can it be used in academic or otherformal writing? The truth is there are many ways to use ellipses. For a quick reference, you can review some of the guidelines for ellipses here.

Show an Omission

In formal writing, the most common way to use an ellipsis is to show that you’ve omitted words. When using quotes from research, you will usually choose the most on-point quotes to bolster your thesis. So if citing one of the more notable (and lengthy) quotes from Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, your editing version would look like this:

“I wish I could say that racism and prejudice were only distant memories. We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust…We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.”

With that being said, when shortening a quote with the use of ellipses, just make sure that your edits don’t change the meaning of the quote or take it out of context.

Ellipses at the beginning and end of quotations

When your quote is only a portion of a sentence, the ellipses will inevitably fall at the very beginning or at the end of the quote. For instance, if the original source material says: “I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in providence, for the illumination of the ignorant and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth;” Then a good use of ellipses at the beginning of a sentence would be:  John Adams referred to the creation of the American republic as “…the illumination of the ignorant and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth.” Using ellipses at the end of a quote would be: “I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder…”

As you can see, the ellipses work as the ending punctuation; an additional period is unnecessary.

In Dialog

Most English-language style guides say that ellipses can be used to indicate a pause or falter in dialog, the passage of time, an unfinished list, or that a speaker has trailed off in the middle of a sentence or left something unsaid. This is typically used in fiction more so than journalism or formal writing and it can be an effective tool in helping the reader “hear” the character speak.

However, ellipses should not be used to indicate an abrupt halt in dialog. That effect is best accomplished by using a dash.

The uses of ellipses are wide and varied and allow for flexible usage. No matter which type of writing you are doing, it is very likely you can get great use out of ellipses in your work.

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