How To Use Ellipses
Many people don’t know how to use ellipses properly or tend to overuse them. While it’s true writers have creative license, they risk putting their work in an unflattering light if they don’t use punctuation correctly. Bad punctuation can even hurt their credibility. This is especially true with the ellipsis, which I consider to be one of the most misused punctuation marks.
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Ellipses use can be like the Wild West. Some people tend to make up their own rules for using them, while others just go crazy with the number of dots. In this post we’ll look at some common misuses and how to fix them.
Too Many Dots
The following are examples of what doesn’t constitute an ellipsis:
Read on and find out more . . . . .
Take this quiz . .
Can you relate to the following . . . . . . . . . .
An ellipsis is not made up of two dots. Or five. Or ten. An ellipsis is only three dots, called ellipsis points. That’s it. Too many dots annoy people, looks amateurish, and, if left to stand, can reflect badly on the proofreader.
Used To Portray All The Feelings
Have you ever seen something like this:
Join today and get a free bag while quantities last……….
In the above example the writer is trying to use ellipses to create a sense of urgency to join now. All of those dots are not necessary. The meaning would be just as impactful with fewer dots.
Ellipses can occur in the middle or end of a sentence, and can be used to convey a feeling like uncertainty or anticipation. So the sentence should be:
Join today and get a free bag while quantities last . . .
If you want to learn how to correct some more common errors, you can sign up for my free 5-day course, Proofreading 101 below:
Used To Change The Meaning
It’s never okay for an ellipsis to be used to change the meaning of a quotation. It’s unethical, and if you notice it as a proofreader, you should point it out.
However, ellipses can be used to shorten a long quotation, as long as the message and context are preserved.
Ellipses are used to show missing words, phrases, or sentences, but the meaning of the quoted material cannot be manipulated in a way that changes it from the original source’s intent.
Other Ways To Use Ellipses
The Associated Press Stylebook recommends you treat an ellipsis as a three-letter word, with two spaces, like this: . . .
To make it you hit the space bar, period, space bar, period, space bar, period, space bar. Do not hit the period button three times in a row.
Any text before and after the ellipsis should be separated by a space.
X They are not…here at the moment.
X They are not… here at the moment.
✓ They are not . . . here at the moment.
According to The Chicago Manual of Style, an ellipsis can also show a pause or hesitation in dialogue:
“Let me see . . . if you really do know how to use an ellipsis,” said Susan as she flipped through the pages.
It can also be used in an incomplete sentence that trails off in dialogue:
“Austin, I hope you’ll always remember . . . ” whispered Eden.
In general, ellipses should be used sparingly. Too many ellipses in a piece of content can be annoying to the reader and may hinder readability. Also, too many ellipsis points are seen as amateur and unprofessional, and can affect your reputation as a proofreader.
It’s a proofreader’s job to correctly format ellipses, if the writer’s word processing document hasn’t already. In certain cases where a writer can get away with their own informal version of an ellipsis, like a comic book for example, you want to use your judgement. In that situation, I don’t recommend you delete an ellipsis or correct it without the client’s permission.