Understanding the Ellipsis

Hey everyone,
Today, I would like to address one of my pet peeves—misuse of ellipses. First, let’s define what they are.

What are ellipses?
An ellipsis (ellipses for plural) is a set of three periods (…) indicating omission or a drawn-out pause. These are often used in pieces of writing that use quoted material and in fictional dialogue/thoughts.

In Quoted Material
This piece of punctuation comes to your aid when you want to include only a portion of a long-winded paragraph (or sentence) your source has. To do this, must place the ellipsis (or ellipses) wherever a part of the sentence is left unfinished.

• If the part quoted include the beginning, simply place the ellipsis at the end.
• If the part quoted is smack in the middle, use ellipses in the front and back.
• If the part includes the ending, you need to include the ellipses and the period at the end.

Example— You are using the quote below.
“You’ve got to take the good with the bad, smile with the sad, love what you’ve got, and remember what you had. Always forgive, but never forget. Learn from mistakes, but never regret.”

Quote including the beginning of a sentence:
Unknown says, “You’ve got to take the good with the bad…” to remind us life has its ups and downs.

Quote using the middle of a sentence:
Unknown says, “…smile with the sad, love what you’ve got…” to remind us to stay positive.

Quote using the end of a sentence:
Unknown says, “…love what you’ve got, and remember what you had” to remind us of the positives in life.

Remember, these are the common guidelines. If your teacher (or boss) asks for a specific style (MLA, Chicago, etc), do further research to understand the nuances that the style requires.

In Fiction
Now, for the main event: fictional thought and dialogue.

Using an ellipses in portions of the story that are neither dialogue or a character’s inner thoughts is jarring and distracting. I will not deny that some authors may pull this off, but overall this practice is not recommended. The period itself breaks a sentence long enough for a large breath, making a larger pause simply unnecessary.

However, people often take elongated pauses or simply trail off before finishing a sentence in both speech and internal conversations. These true to life events mean ellipses are allowed to be used in such situations found in fictional writing.

While the intent is not wrong, the usage can become overdone like any other form of punctuation (the question mark, exclamation point, etc). But what constitutes as enough or too much ellipses?

Examples of too much:
“I…uh…my name is…Grace,” she said.

“I wasn’t really . . . well, what I mean . . . see, the thing is . . . I didn’t mean it.”

I think…that’s it! I just need to drive to…damn…I left my keys at home…
(example of character thoughts)

Unsure of how to cut back? Here are some alternatives:
1. Use the word paused instead:
“I’m not…” Noah paused, “I’m not ready for this kind of responsibility.”

2. Show the hesitancy in other words:
“I..I’m not sure about this,” Laura said with hesitation. She wasn’t used to making such big decisions.

3. Pick out the most important pauses:
Instead of “I…uh…my name is..Grace.” try “My name is…Grace.”

This choice highlights that the character appears to have forgotten her name in her flustered state while retaining the idea she isn’t completely comfortable.

As you can see, I only used one or two instead of multiple ellipsis. It may feel as though you are cutting down the amount of hesitation or proper pause, but an author can only stay so true to reality. Multiple large pauses are often boring and detract from your writing rather than enhance it.

I hope this helped you understand our little pause friend, the ellipses (…).


Featured Image Credit (for those reading through WordPress.com):
Dan Gold


2 thoughts on “Understanding the Ellipsis

  1. Thank you for the article.
    One little question, if I don’t offend you –
    For the quote using the end of the sentence, I saw a different format somewhere:
    ‘Unknown says, “…love what you’ve got, and remember what you had.” to remind us of the positives in life.’

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s