An ellipsis is a punctuation mark that comprises three periods. In formal writing, it shows that an omission has been made in a quote.
- The class president said, “It was the best event yet … we raised $5,000.”
In creative writing, it can create certain effects. There’s no universal rule on how to format an ellipsis; it’s up to the writer or the publication they work for.
What’s an Ellipsis?
An ellipsis (plural ellipses) is a punctuation mark made up of three periods that indicates an omission of words when quoting someone. It can also signal a pause or hesitation in speech, or trailing off of thought. An ellipsis is informally known as dot dot dot.
Below, we’ll go over how to use an ellipsis, the different ways of formatting it, and answer a few more questions you may have.
Using an Ellipsis in a Quote
In formal and journalistic writing, an ellipsis is used when quoting someone to show that some words or sentences have been removed from the original quote.
Let’s use a famous quote found in J.K. Rowling’s book series, Harry Potter:
Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, an inexhaustible source of magic.
Here’s the same quote with an ellipsis in it:
Words are… an inexhaustible source of magic.
In the sentence above, the ellipsis shows that certain words (in my not-so-humble opinion) have been omitted. However, the overall message of the quote remains the same.
Using an ellipsis when quoting someone carries a responsibility. Be careful not to use an ellipsis to alter what someone is saying.
Words are… my… opinion…
In the example above, the ellipses are improperly used because they misconstrue the original statement.
So, why are ellipses even used in the first place? For efficiency and conciseness. If any word, phrase, or sentence is considered superfluous or doesn’t support the writer’s point, then one may choose to use an ellipsis in its place.
Using an Ellipsis in Creative Writing
An ellipsis is a useful punctuation mark in creative writing because it has a few different functions.
1. Indicate a pause or hesitation.
This is… worse than I could’ve ever imagined.
No… I’m not sure actually… I don’t really know what I want.
2. Signal suspense.
The forensic analysis showed the DNA was… not a match.
3. Show that someone has trailed off in thought.
Can’t deny the facts. But what if the facts were…
How To Format an Ellipsis
Formatting an ellipsis is a stylistic choice. Various style guides recommend different formats when using an ellipsis.
Here’s another quote:
Great men are they who see that spiritual is stronger than any material force, that thoughts rule the world.—Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Associated Press Stylebook (AP style) recommends using a space before and after the three (narrowly-spaced) periods.
“Great men are they who see ... that thoughts rule the world.”
The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago style) recommends an equally spaced ellipsis with a space before and after.
“Great men are they who see … that thoughts rule the world.”
Other options include:
- No spaces
“Great men are they who see...that thoughts rule the world.”
- Brackets and periods with no spaces
“Great men are they who see [...] that thoughts rule the world.”
- Brackets and periods with spaces
“Great men are they who see […] that thoughts rule the world.”
Dot Dot Dot
Remember, when using an ellipsis to quote someone, it’s vital that the quote maintains the original message.
When it comes to using an ellipsis to create a desired effect, make sure to use them sparingly. Too many ellipses can make your writing messy.
Lastly, there’s no universal rule about formatting ellipses. If you’re writing for a publication, follow their style guide. If you’re writing for yourself, what’s important is that you maintain the same formatting throughout your writing. LanguageTool—an intelligent writing assistant—recommends an evenly spaced typographical ellipsis symbol to ensure consistency. Plus, it can correct errors and suggest stylistic improvements in over 30 languages. Try it out!