Punctuation Quiz #9: Ellipsis

By Mark Nichol

All but one of the following sentences demonstrate incorrect use of ellipses according to The Chicago Manual of Style and most other style guides; revise the sentence as necessary:

1. But I thought…

2. The directions . . . are unnecessarily complicated.

3. I applied . . . but was not hired . . . for a job with the company.

4. Don’t touch that button marked Self-Destruct, or….

5. Consider the rhythm in the phrase “. . . our fathers brought forth a new nation. . .”

Answers and Explanations

An ellipsis shows elision (i.e., omission) of one or more words in the midst of a sentence, at the end of a sentence, or at the beginning of a sentence, or of one or more sentences between two complete sentences. The periods should not touch each other or preceding or following characters.

1.
Original: But I thought…
Correct : But I thought . . .

Although word-processing programs enable writers to form a single-character ellipsis by typing three periods in a row, proper style for an ellipsis is as described above. If the intent is to indicate faltering speech, use three dots without terminal punctuation, but if the sentence is deliberately left incomplete (for example, in the statement “The speech begins, ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen . . . .’”), add terminal punctuation, as shown in the example in parentheses here.

2.
Original: The directions . . . are unnecessarily complicated.
Correct : The directions . . . are unnecessarily complicated.

If an ellipsis is used to show omission of one or more words in the middle of a sentence, use three dots. This sentence is correct.

3.
Original: I applied . . . but was not hired . . . for a job with the company.
Correct : I applied — but was not hired — for a job with the company.

Em dashes, not ellipses, should be used to indicate a sudden break in thought.

4.
Original: Don’t touch that button marked Self-Destruct, or….
Correct : Don’t touch that button marked Self-Destruct, or —

Interruption of a remark should be signaled by an em dash, not an ellipsis.

5.
Original: Consider the rhythm in the phrase “. . . our fathers brought forth a new nation. . .”
Correct : Consider the rhythm in the phrase “our fathers brought forth a new nation.”

Don’t use ellipses before or after an incomplete quotation to indicate deliberately elided text.

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6 Responses to “Punctuation Quiz #9: Ellipsis”

  • Paul Baldwin

    Example five caught my attention because of this: It seems to quote a certain short speech by a certain tall president. However, if that reference is intended, the original phrase in question includes another three words right about in the middle. As such, it seems altogether fitting and proper that we should find it in a post on the use of ellipses. But, in a larger sense, it was distracting to me that the proper use of ellipses in that quote, as presented, was not covered. I understand that most people will little note, nor long remember this little bit of pedantry, However, who knows whether there might not be another great task, or test, remaining before us?

  • venqax

    While this subject and information is interesting, I do have to agree that its relevance to writing is, to me anyway, a bit sketchy. Like the em-dash/en-dash/hyphen/minus sign- thing, it does raise a bit of a pin-head-angel-dancing quality. These seem more like printing concerns than writing ones, especially since most keyboards don’t even allow for some of the distinctions made. And then there is the confusion of fonts problem. Half the time you can’t tell the difference– because there isn’t one– between a small-case L and an upper-case I or a numeral 1. Likewise Os and zeros, and some others; and that doesn’t seem to bother printers at all. (It bothers me, hence me bringing it up. Or my bringing it up. ?)

  • Dale A. Wood

    “Don’t use ellipses before or after an incomplete quotation to indicate deliberately elided text.”
    Where is this written on stone tablets?
    “Interruption of a remark should be signaled by an em dash, not an ellipsis.”
    Where is this written on stone tablets?
    Also, I do not see much sense in counting the subtle details of how many dots there are and how many spaces are in between:
    How many…? How many. . . ? How many….? It is all irrelevant, and especially with millions of people around who cannot distinguish between these {there, their, they’re}, {your, you’re, yur}, and {its, it’s} , and the ones who write “for ever” instead of “forever”.

  • venqax

    I, too, was under the impression that you never used 4 dots, even at the end of a sentence…

  • Lynn

    Thanks for correctly noting the spacing used in ellipses (though in typesetting or page layout programs, kerning in used to achieve the proper space). But the spacing shown with em dashes in examples 3 and 4 is incorrect. There should be NO space before or after em dashes–same as with en dashes, hyphens, and parentheses.

    In example 1, CMOS actually states the opposite regarding terminal punctuation: “Three dots are used at the end of a quoted sentence that is deliberately left grammatically incomplete” (no terminal punctuation, per para 13.53).

  • Mia

    What would be the word(s) that’s being left out I n example number two?

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