Grammar Check – using ellipses – are you doing it right?

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I’ve always liked using ellipses in casual writing and I’m a big-time user in text messages when I want to show my thoughts trailing off.  But I haven’t written a research paper since college, so my need to use them in formal writing has dropped to zero. It’s always a good idea to stay current on the rules, however, because last week at work, I found myself in an intense conversation about the proper use of an ellipsis.

We were researching its use for a writer who’d called in with a very specific question: “If the ellipsis represents an omission, but it’s between two complete sentences, how many dots are there and are there spaces between them?”

Eeek! My coworker grabbed The Chicago Manual of Style, found the rule, marked the page and we waited for the writer to call back. He called back on my watch and that’s when the intensity intensified.

The CMOS rule says that there should be 4 dots. The first dot is the period and there is no space after the last word in the sentence. The next 3 dots are the ellipsis and there is a space between each dot. You can then begin the next sentence.

I did not remember that there should be spaces between the dots, but I’m ready for the next caller, as long as it’s the exact same question! There’s a lot of online chatter and opinion about the proper use of an ellipsis. I’m going to stick to the Chicago rules, but you can check out some of the discussion on these links:

The Chicago Manual of Style Online
Grammar Girl at Quick and Dirty Tips
Writing-Skills.com
ProWritingAid.com

Are you a wild user of the ellipse or do you follow the rules?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

36 thoughts on “Grammar Check – using ellipses – are you doing it right?

  1. I find the ellipsis difficult too. There does seem to be conflicting advice. I usually leave a space before and after and insert it from symbols rather than type it, but I will often check online to see if I’m (hopefully) using it correctly. Thanks for addressing this one, Barbara. It can be tricky.

    1. Hi Norah, I think I’ve opened up Pandora’s Box – there are many strong opinions and rulings on the ellipsis. The only rule I’m sure about now, is the example. I don’t think I will ever use ellipses again! Thanks for visiting 🙂

      1. Neither am I and, based on the conflicting rules and opinions, I think I will steer clear of the ellipse, except when I text – can’t give that up 😉 Thanks for commenting.

    1. Hi Stevie – thanks for the reblog – much appreciated! I guess it’s only four dots after a complete sentence. I never knew there was a space between them – so much for being an English major in college. Thanks for the visit!

  2. I realise now I should have been paying much more attention when I was at school, it’s all very confusing . . . . Now I’ve had to go online to check and there is some confusion on line as to how many full stops and whether to have spaces, I wish I’d not read this and just carried on as I had done before using a random number with no spaces….. It’s all well and good writing a post like this but I think the least you could do is give an example, I’m not going back to search for “how to use ellipses in a sentence?” This is all too much I’m going back to staring out of the window like I did when I was at school, the sun is shining, it’s a lovely day….

    1. Hi Jennifer – that’s what I’m hearing about the em dash. It’s prettier anyway. I think there’s a danger in using ellipses, besides inciting the wrath of grammarians, you can definitely change the meaning of something by leaving words out of your quote. Thanks for reading and commenting – here’s to the em dash!

    1. Well I only know this tiny rule inside the giant manual on the use of ellipses. I’m hearing the em dash is a better option – thanks for the visit!

  3. Thanks for this post, Barbara. I’m another conflicted user of ellipses. One editor I worked with insisted that all follow the CMOS rule, but others believe differently. I guess the best way to go is to choose one of the styles and be consistent throughout your work? And hope that readers are so involved in the story that they don’t pay close attention to the number of dots (three or four).

    From a reader’s perspective, I have to say that as my eyes age, I often can’t tell how many dots are in an ellipse!

    1. Haha – that’s good, Mary! I agree that consistency is the best policy. You’re right that not everyone follows the CMOS. Thanks for stopping in 🙂

  4. I worked as an editor and a copy editor before I retired, and I worked up a hatred of ellipses used for anything but words that have been left out of a quote. If someone comes along and wants to quote a bit of your writing and you’ve used ellipses to indicate a pause, the reader can’t tell if the quoter dropped some words or if the writer just thought they sort of kind of indicated a pause that felt right there.

    Use an em dash. It can’t be mistaken for anything else.

    End of rant.

    1. Hi Ellen, you make a great point. I think the biggest danger is in changing the meaning of a quote by omitting words. Good advice about the em dash too. Come back and rant any time, because I support a good rant!

    1. I know, I know. And I can’t quote the Chicago Manual as a source on this. I don’t get to declare everyone who uses the three-dot system wrong. But it’s not the only approache–or the clearest.

    2. I must be getting old, because I don’t remember being taught this rule in school. In college, I used a manual. I’m going to ask my kids if they learned about ellipses. Thanks for reading and commenting, Robbie.

    1. I’m getting the vibe that the em dash is the way to go. I just commented to Jan Flynn that I will need to look up proper use of the em dash. Too many rules to get it all right. Fortunately, in the blogging sphere, things are pretty loose. Thanks for reading, Jill. Have a great weekend!

  5. I grew up reading Herb Caen in the San Francisco Chronicle, and he was such an aficionado of the ellipsis that it became something of a writing tic for me. I still use it, but only when it absolutely can’t be replaced by an em dash or anything else. And it looks very weird between sentences, with the fourth dot. . . . See what I mean? 🙂

    1. Hi Jan. Yes, I agree that the fourth dot looks weird. I’m going to have to look up the proper use of an em dash. They look nice, but who knows if I’ve been using them correctly? Thanks for the visit!

  6. I should go and stand in the corner, for my ellipses have only three dots and no spaces!
    And I have to ask, what on earth is an em dash?

    1. I’ll be in that corner with you . An em dash is a long dash, but don’t ask me its proper use! We can talk about it during our time out! 😉 Thanks for reading.

  7. I must have been trained on this early on because I’ve always used three dots for a small omission, and four to represent the omission comes after a sentence. However, in casual comments, I tend to overuse ellipsis…you know….to show where I might pause to add a little hint of humor if I was speaking the words instead of typing them.

    1. I’m with you on the casual use, Tammie. I use them all the time. I wouldn’t have known about the period prior, but it does make sense. As for the space between dots, well I learned something, but II’m told not all style manuals follow this rule. Thanks for reading!

    1. I know! I’m sure I get it wrong all the time. Unless I decide to write a scholarly thesis, I think I’ll just carry on as before! Thanks for reading and commenting, Gina.

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