All About Ellipses …

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You see those dots? All three together form an ellipsis. The plural form of this word is Ellipse, as in “a writer uses a lot of ellipses.” They also go by the following names: ellipsis, point of ellipsis, hanging point. we are choosing ellipsis here, just to make things clear. (And since we’re aiming for clarity here, we’ll also point out that Ellipse is another word, however, we are sorry, it is sometimes used to refer to ellipsis.)

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Photo: lenzian

Some thoughts on the coming ellipse…

Ellipses are periods in groups that are usually three or sometimes four. They signal that something has been omitted in the quoted text, or that a speaker or writer has paused or digressed in speech or thought.

Those are the basics. Now we will find out how they are used.

For example

1) An ellipsis indicates the omission of one or more words in the quoted sentence, as in the following example from the Preamble to the United States Constitution. Note that they are usually preceded and followed by a space:

“We, the People of the United States…determine and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

2) An ellipsis is not normally used to indicate the omission of words that precede the quoted part. However, in some formal contexts, especially when the quote is introduced with a colon, an ellipsis is used.

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address ended with a moving appeal for the national solution that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Its final words define the purpose of the war in democratic terms: “…that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The ellipsis after the cited document is omitted when the cited material forms an integral part of a larger sentence.

She said it was inconsistent with “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

3) The punctuation used in the original text on either side of the ellipsis is usually omitted, but may be retained if it helps clarify sentence structure.

“Now we’re engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation… can last long.”

“We, the People of the United States of America, to … establish Justice, … and secure the Blessings of Liberty …, have promulgated and established this Constitution for the United States of America.” USA.”

If the omitted part includes the end of the sentence, a four-dot ellipsis can be used, when in effect the first period is the period immediately after the last word.

As the Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that their Creator has endowed them with certain Inalienable Rights… To secure these rights, Governments are established among Men, obtaining their rightful powers from the consent of the ruled…”

4) If the last words of the quoted sentence are omitted and the original sentence ends with a punctuation mark other than a period, the ending punctuation mark usually follows the ellipsis, especially if it helps clarify citation section.

Workshop attendees were presented with a series of questions that began with “What advice would you give to those with experience…?”

5) When ellipses are used to indicate that a quote has been intentionally left unfinished, the ending period is ignored. There is no space separating the last ellipsis and quotes.

The paragraph that begins “Recent developments suggest …” should be deleted.

6) A line with an ellipsis indicates that one or more lines have been omitted in a poem, as in the following example from Walt Whitman’s “When I Heard Astronomers Learned”. The length of the line usually matches the length of the line above.

When I listen to the astronomer,

…………………………… …………

Before long I became tired and sick,

Until I wake up and glide out, I wander alone,

In the mysterious moist night air, and every now and then,

Looking up in perfect silence at the stars.

7) An ellipsis is used to indicate faltering speech, especially if the stammer involves a long pause or a sentence that is interrupted or intentionally left unfinished. In general, no other end punctuation is used.

The speaker seemed uncertain. “Well, that’s true… but even so… I think we can do better.”

“Despite these uncertainties, we believe we can, but….”

“I mean…” he said, “like… How?”

8) The ellipsis is sometimes used informally as a stylistic tool to grab the reader’s attention, often as a substitute for dashes or colons.

They thought nothing could go wrong… but it happened.

9) In newspaper and magazine columns that include social notes, lists of local events, or celebrity short stories, ellipses often substitute for paragraphing to separate entries.

Congratulations to Debra Morricone, our rising singing star, on receiving a full Juilliard scholarship this fall! … And a big thank you to Paul Chartier for his winning All-State trumpet performance last Friday in Baltimore! … Look for witty and sparkling tunes as the Lions host their annual Gilbert & Sullivan show at the Syms Auditorium. This year is…

Ellipses are similarly used in informal personal correspondence in place of periods or paragraphs.

We’ll be away for the weekend and then back to work on Monday… You can come to the graduation party at the end of the month.

And there you have it! Now go ahead and with a new imperative of ellipses and a new sense of confidence when you need to gather your thoughts on the page…

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Categories: Usage Notes

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