Ellipses are used to indicate ‘omissions’ of words, sentence, thoughts, etc.
There are a number of different ways in which ellipses can be used, and there are a variety of often conflicting style rules/recommendations on how ellipses should be formatted. This post covers the basics – there are lots of situations where ellipses can be used, and a surprising amount of variations for how to use them. Refer to your favorite style guide or go with your personal preference for more complex situations.
The most important thing is to research your use cases and make sure you’re consistent throughout your manuscript.
I highly recommend creating a checklist or cheat sheet. It will only take a tiny bit of time, and it will save you from having to look up and think about grammar rules when you’re formatting a manuscript.
Ways to represent an ellipsis
An ellipsis consists of three dots. There are three ways to represent this:
- By actually using three dots: …
- By using the ellipsis character: …
- By using three dots, with spaces in between the dots: . . .
The first two options will generally look the same, or almost the same, depending on your browser, word processor, etc.
These are a few of the more common use cases.
- Spaces on either side of an ellipsis
There is usually a space on each side of an ellipsis. For example:
This was the last time …
However, there are different schools of thought on this, so decide which approach to follow and be consistent.
- When to use four dots
Use four dots instead of three if you’re using an ellipse at the end of a complete sentence. This is technically a period followed by an ellipse, and is used to indicate that there’s a gap in between two sentences.
Once again, she had forgotten to put on her wings…. She opened the door and walked in.
- Handling exclamation points and question marks
If a sentence ends with an exclamation point or question mark, and there’s an omission between it and the next sentence, use an ellipsis.
Why did she leave …? Why couldn’t she have stayed?
Or put the ellipsis after the punctuation mark, if the omission occurs in between the two sentences.
Why did she leave? … Why couldn’t she have stayed?