The Ellipsis: What Is It and How Should You Use It?
The Ellipsis: What Is It and How Should You Use It Image

You might know it fondly as “dot dot dot.” Or, maybe for you it’s simply “dot dot,” or even “dot dot dot dot dot,” because, you know, some things just call for more dots.

And who’s counting, right?

Well, it turns out you should be counting, after all. Those 3 (yep! 3!!) dots are actually called an ellipsis, and they come with some pretty well-defined rules for how you ought to use them.

But fear not—we’ve broken down all those rules for you here, with helpful examples and style guide recommendations so you never have to worry about counting dots again.

What Is an Ellipsis?

The ellipsis is used to indicate the omission of words or phrases from a written text. In fact, the term itself comes from the Greek élleipsis, meaning “omission” or “falling short.”

You might see ellipses used for this purpose in transcripts or selected quotes, in which omitting certain words doesn’t alter the intended meaning.

For example, if you’re writing an essay for your literature class and want to quote a certain character, you might eliminate some phrases that aren’t necessary in order to be more concise. In this case, you would use an ellipsis to indicate that words have been omitted from the original quote.

Additionally, the ellipsis can be used to indicate a pause in speech or dialogue. However, this technique should only be used in fictional writing.

How Many Dots Are in an Ellipsis?

An ellipsis itself contains 3 dots. However, if the ellipsis follows a grammatically complete sentence, then that sentence requires its own period. Thus, the period plus the ellipsis will look like 4 dots placed together, even though the ellipsis itself still contains just 3 dots.

Spacing Between Dots

You might notice that the spacing between dots appears differently in different texts.

That’s because the different style guides take their own stances when it comes to spacing in ellipses.

The Chicago Manual of Style, for example, advocates for a space between each dot, while the AP Stylebook calls for spaces only before and after the ellipsis. Note the difference between the 2 examples below:

Chicago: I just think . . . maybe it’s better if we leave early.

AP Style: I just think … maybe it’s better if we leave early.

Examples of Ellipses in Sentences

See the examples of ellipses in sentences below for a better understanding of when and how you can use them. Note that we’re abiding by the Chicago Style Manual‘s rules for these examples (see explanation above).

  • “But . . . but . . . ,” said Tom.
  • “I . . . I . . . that is, we . . . yes, we have made an awful blunder!” 
  • “The ship . . . oh my God! . . . it’s sinking!” cried Henrietta.
  • He called me yesterday. . . . I’m not sure what he wanted.
  • So . . . what are you going to do?
  • I don’t know . . . what do you think looks best?
  • I’m going to see John. . . . Maybe he can help me.

Learn How to Use Ellipses

Ellipses can be useful tools for enhancing dialogue in creative writing, and they can conveniently make quotations more concise in nonfiction writing.

By learning how to use ellipses, colons, semicolons, and other punctuation marks correctly, you can make your writing more effective and avoid some of the most common mistakes.

What are some punctuation marks you still have questions about? Let us know in the comments below!


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The Ellipsis: What Is It and How Should You Use It?
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