Reader Vic Shane writes:
…my editor told me there is a four-dot ellipsis that is not the same thing as the three-dot version. When I went to Journalism school (32 years ago), we only had the three-dot variety, as far as I know. The extra dot came from somewhere and I’d like to get to the bottom of it. I won’t rest until I know why that dot is floating around in the ethers looking for a sentence!
Strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as a 4-dot ellipsis. Omission of material in a quotation is indicated by three dots. When a fourth dot appears, it indicates that the omitted material included at least one sentence.
The Chicago Manual of Style describes the use of the ellipsis at great length, referring to the “three dot, four dot, and rigorous” methods (11.51 ff).
Spaces or no spaces?
Not all style guides agree as to whether or not the dots in the ellipsis should have spaces between them.
Chicago Manual of Style
An ellipsis—the omission of a word, phrase, line, paragraph, or more from a quoted passage—is indicated by ellipsis points (or dots), not by asterisks. Ellipsis points are three spaced periods (. . .), sometimes preceded or followed by other punctuation. They must always appear together on the same line, but any preceding punctuation may appear at the end of the line above (see also 11.64).
MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers
For an ellipsis within a sentence, use three periods with a space before each and a space after the last ( . . . ).
Merriam-Webster distinguishes between “ellipsis marks [ … ]” and “suspension points
[ . . . ].”
According to the Wikipedia article on ellipsis,
In legal writing in the United States, Rule 5.3 in the Bluebook citation guide governs the use of ellipses and requires a space before the first dot and between the two subsequent dots. If an ellipsis ends the sentence, then there are three dots, each separated by a space, followed by the final punctuation.
AP style, on the other hand, leaves out the spaces ( … ).
Ellipsis and unfinished thought
When a speaker trails off, leaving a sentence unfinished, three dots are used:
“I never meant . . .”
When a quotation ends with an ellipsis
When three [dots] are used, space occurs both before the first dot and after the final dot. When four are used, the first dot is a true period—that is, there is no space between it and the preceding word.
When the ellipsis coincides with the end of your sentence, use three periods with a space before each following a sentence period–that is, four periods, with no space before the first or after the last.
Here is an illustration of the use of ellipsis points to indicate 1) omission of words in a sentence; 2) omission of an entire sentence, and 3) ending the quotation with an ellipsis.
One further habit which was somewhat weakened, although by no means broken, was that of combining native words into self-interpreting compounds. The extent to which words like bookhouse or boatswain entered into Old English has been pointed out above. The practice was not abandoned in Middle English but in many cases where a new word could have been easily formed on the native model, a ready-made French word was borrowed instead. –Baugh, A History of the English Language (221).
“One further habit which was somewhat weakened . . . was that of combining words into self-interpreting compounds. . . . The practice was not abandoned. . . .”
The web abounds with discussions of the ellipsis. Here are some links.
The Elusive Ellipsis (DWT)