by Davy Kraken
A library featuring commonly committed errors of the English language.
|An ellipsis is a set of three periods written together (…), and the plural is ellipses. A single one of those periods that comprises an ellipsis is called an ellipsis point or ellipsis mark. If you are quoting someone, then you may use ellipses to indicate omitted words, as long as the statement still retains its original spirit and meaning. Ellipses are also used to indicate hesitation or unfinished thoughts. Whenever I use ellipses, it is almost always in the latter context. In my experience, the rules surrounding ellipses appear to be some of the most confusing and, consequently, least absolute in all of grammar, so take the following statements with a grain of salt. Clarity and consistency are the most important aspects to keep in mind.
If the opening of your quotation is not the beginning of a sentence from your source, then place an ellipsis between the opening quotation mark and the first word without leaving any spaces. Also, you should only use an ellipsis at the beginning of a quote if you have an adequate segue beforehand. (An opening ellipsis is highly optional, since the preceding segue often stands in for the omitted text in such a way that the omission is not really omitted at all.)
If you omit words in the middle of a quote, then you should leave a space between the ellipsis and the words surrounding it. If you are merely using an ellipsis to indicate hesitation or uncertainty rather than an absence of words, then, to distinguish it, don’t leave spaces between the ellipsis and the surrounding words.
If you omit words at the end of a quoted sentence, then you should place an ellipsis immediately after the final word, followed by the appropriate punctuation and closing quotation mark, not leaving any spaces. The same applies to when a sentence simply trails off; after all, unfinished thoughts are essentially equal to absent words.
If you omit an entire sentence – or more than one sentence – between two sentences you are quoting, then you should leave a space between the closing punctuation of the last sentence and the first word of the sentence you pick up at.
Here is an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence, which will be quoted several ways in the first three examples:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”
The Declaration of Independence states “…that all men are created equal.”
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed … with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. … That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it….”
“Well…I…uh…” he stammered.
“Are you sure…?” she asked.
He stared in disbelief. “This is impossible….”
As for the last three examples, you should seldom, if ever, use ellipses of that nature in formal writing, since your objective is to state your thoughts clearly and completely, not with hesitation and uncertainty. Even in stories and other more relaxed venues, however, still attempt to limit the prevalence of ellipses. You and your characters should generally finish thoughts rather than constantly being cryptic and leaving the reader to complete them.