Punctuation Quiz #18: Ellipsis

By Mark Nichol

In the following sentences, choose the version that correctly reflects the stated intent of the ellipsis.

1. To indicate a pause:
a) And the award goes to. . .John Smith.
b) And the award goes to . . . John Smith.

2. To indicate that one or more words at the end of a quoted sentence have been omitted because the rest of the sentence is irrelevant to the discussion:
a) Notice the rhyme in “I have a notion about that potion . . . .
b) Notice the rhyme in “I have a notion about that potion . . .

3. To indicate an omitted sentence between two complete sentences:
a) I have been there . . . . It’s not worth the price of admission.
b) I have been there. . . . It’s not worth the price of admission.

4. To indicate text that has been deliberately left incomplete, as when signaling trailing speech:
a) When in Rome . . . .
b) When in Rome . . .

5. To indicate that text has been omitted at the end of the first sentence:
a) The report focused on implementation. . . . However, the revision emphasized funding.
b) The report focused on implementation . . . . However, the revision emphasized funding.

Answers and Explanations

The rules about ellipsis are precise, but a change in meaning can occur with the insertion or omission of a single dot or a letter space, so it’s important to recognize the distinctions.

1. b) And the award goes to . . . John Smith.
Letter spaces must always precede and follow an ellipsis regardless of the function of the ellipsis.

2. a) Notice the rhyme in “I have a notion about that potion . . . .
A fourth dot is necessary to indicate that the sentence is incomplete.

3. b) I have been there. . . . It’s not worth the price of admission.
Because an ellipsis is supposed to be preceded and followed by a letter space, the space following there in the original version mistakenly indicates that “I have been there” is incomplete. A dot immediately after there signals that “I have been there” is a complete sentence followed by a three-dot ellipsis indicating an omitted sentence.

4. b) When in Rome . . .
Though “When in Rome” is the beginning of a sentence, for deliberately unfinished sentences, use the ellipsis only, without terminal punctuation. (This is an exception to the rule that applies in the second example, above.

5. b) The report focused on implementation . . . . However, the revision emphasized funding.
The dot immediately after implementation implies that the sentence ends there. A letter space followed by a three-dot ellipsis and a fourth dot, which is a period, correctly shows that one or more words has been omitted from the end of the first sentence.

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4 Responses to “Punctuation Quiz #18: Ellipsis”

  • Mark Nichol

    Jeff:
    No punctuation should appear when there is no attribution (compare “Notice the rhyme when he says, ‘I have a notion about that potion . . . .'”).

  • venqax

    All true, bluebird, but I think we are on perilous ground when we make “I know what you mean” the standard. After all, we know what someone means when he says “nukyular” or writes “I no what your doing their!”
    The interesting point for me is that I learned “never write four periods in row”. That explicitly meant not even at the end of a sentence and is exactly the opposite of what 2 a) requires. I never liked that because it seemed illogical to me not to have a period to end the sentence. I think the justification was that an ellipsis was like a punctuation mark and could end a sentence by itself, like a question mark or exclamation point. But I don’t buy that, either, since ellipses can occur in mid-sentence. I’m glad that I now have license to quadruple-period whenever necessary, which isn’t that often, unfortunately…..

  • Thebluebird11

    Well. I’m glad I don’t do much writing that comes under scrutiny . . . except maybe here. I’m sure the rules are precise, but it seems to me that for this type of punctuation, which often represents imprecision or at least some relaxation and glossing-over, the rules need to relax too. Ellipses represent pauses, things left out because they’re not relevant, things left to the imagination. I do not care if there are 3 or 4 dots, or if there is a space or not before the dots, between the dots, after the dots . . . it’s all good. I read it and I understand.

  • Jeff Quackenbush

    Great lesson. Is the quotation in answer No. 2 supposed to be set off from the sentence by a comma, as the object of the sentence?

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