Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Writing Wednesday: Properly using an ellipsis

My friend Courtney (who has a fabulous blog you should check out) suggested today's Writing Wednesday topic: ellipses. I think this is one of the most misused forms of punctuation today, and I'll explain why.

First, like my last Writing Wednesday about apostrophes, I will explain what ellipses should be used for:
  • Ellipses are used to show omission. You probably remember doing this in your high school English class when you wanted to shorten a really long quote from a Shakespeare play and only include the applicable parts ("What's in a name? . . . A rose by any other name would smell as sweet").
  • Ellipses are used to occasionally show that you're trailing off mid-sentence or hesitating before speaking. It's perfectly acceptable and grammatically correct to use an ellipsis for sentences like "When I was your age..." (when the kid yawns and leaves the room, leaving the grandparent/parent to keep rambling on).
Interesting, right? I have to admit that I consulted Grammar Girl before writing this post, because I wanted to be sure there weren't other uses for the ellipsis. You can check out her post on ellipses for a longer explanation, but these are the basics you need to know.

Now, here are a few ways not to use an ellipsis:
  • Don't use an ellipsis to end every sentence. I am exaggerating here, but at the same time I'm not exaggerating. One of my co-workers ends every email to me with an ellipsis, and it gets really annoying. What people don't realize is that using an ellipsis too frequently weakens the meaning of their writing -- or changes it completely. For example, sending an email to someone with the phrase "Thank you..." sounds like you are, in fact, not grateful to them at all because you're trailing off. Overusing ellipses can also make you sound indecisive, since you didn't end your thought resolutely with a period. My advice? Only use an ellipsis when you really are feeling indecisive or hesitant; otherwise, use a period to end the sentence cleanly.
  • Don't use an ellipsis without spaces when showing omission in formal writing. When you let readers know that you removed part of a sentence from someone's quote, the proper way to include an ellipsis is adding spaces between the three dots like this: [. . .]. There should be periods before and after the ellipsis so that it stands out.
  • Don't use an ellipsis with more than three dots. Ellipses only have three dots. A sentence that ends with six dots is incorrect and, to be honest, punctuation overkill. Just stick to three.
Thanks for the suggestion, Courtney! I actually learned a bit more about the ellipsis (including Larry King's unique use of them in his columns) writing this post, and now I am even more determined to only use ellipses sparingly. They're so much more powerful that way.

And happy early Thanksgiving! I'm looking forward to this holiday, especially the pumpkin pie.


  1. Thanks for the reminder. I will try to better. :)

  2. Oh man. I am terrible at this and didn't even know it! I maybe have an addiction to ellipses, ha! Thanks for the excellent post, i desperately needed it. I'm sure anyone who reads my writing will thank you too!

  3. First off, you are awesome for doing this post and for linking to my blog. :) Also, your examples are fabulous! This makes me hopeful though, because I don't think I really overuse the ellipsis that much. Definitely not like your co-worker. hahaha


Thanks for sharing your beautiful thoughts! I love reading them.