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Ellipsis (...)

Ellipsis is the punctuation used to mark the omission from speech or writing of a word or words that are superfluous or able to be understood from contextual clues.

What is an ellipsis?

An ellipsis (…) is a string of dots that is sometimes placed within texts to indicate a pause in speech or an incomplete thought. The string consists of three periods, but rules vary as to whether an ellipsis should contain spaces; the Chicago Manual of Style advocates a space between each dot (. . .).

The ellipsis is often used to eliminate words within quotes, but in a manner that doesn't subtract from the intended meaning. This is usually done for the sake of brevity, succinctness, and relevance in quotes that might otherwise sound rambling or repetitive.

In some quarters, the ellipsis is referred to as a suspension point or simply "dot–dot–dot."

Common examples of an ellipsis

As a literary device, the ellipsis is sometimes used to build tension and suspense within works of fiction:

With the fate of the building in his hands, he scrambled to find the fuse to the hidden detonator. Heart pounding…pulse racing… time running short. Tick… tick… tick…

In published interviews, the ellipsis might be used to indicate a pause or an interruption in the subject's train of thought:

I think it would have been better had we been more open-minded and adopted to the changing times, but… I don't think the others would have… I mean, I liked synthpop, but some of the others in the band just didn't… just couldn't shake that '70s boogie rock thing.

Earlier in the 20th century, the ellipsis was often used as a censoring tool by the media in news reports where a subject used expletives:

Armed with a machine gun, the robber ordered everyone to the ground and shouted the following words to the bank clerk: "Open the… safe and hand me all the… money or I'll blow your… head off!"

Using an ellipsis in writing

The ellipsis can make academic essays more readable when applied to quotes within an essay or news article. When a subject in a news report gives a long, rambling answer that nonetheless contains key info, ellipses can help eliminate the wordiness and make the quote more succinct and readable. The following example shows the difference that ellipses can make in a news article:

Regarding the billionaire gadfly's campaign, party strategist Jim Doe said that "he could really cause a rift in our party with his inflammatory, unscripted comments about different groups of people. I mean, here we are trying to court these people and bring them into our party, and here's this guy saying they don't even belong in our country. There's concern on our part that we may lose these demographics; that we might permanently alienate them and not be able to win with these voters in future election cycles."

Regarding the billionaire gadfly's campaign, party strategist Jim Doe said that "he could really cause a rift… with his inflammatory, unscripted comments about different groups of people. … There's concern on our part that we may lose these demographics… in future election cycles."

Note how before the last sentence, an actual period preceded the ellipsis due to the omission of a full sentence. According to the Chicago Manual, an ellipsis that cuts words within a sentence should consist of three dots, whereas a cut to a later sentence should consist of four dots: a period plus an ellipsis.

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