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Worry-free Writing: how to use an ellipsis

How to use an ellipsis correctly
We’ve all seen them – and used them –​ those little dots that create suspense, or trail off dialogue. 
But have you ever stopped to think about whether there’s a correct number of dots you should use, or when you should use them?
Some people are just dot-mad and take a ‘more the merrier’ approach. Admit it, we’ve all seen a PowerPoint slide where the speaker tries to introduce some suspense about what’s coming on the next slide like this ………………..
But …
An ellipsis isn’t just a random number of full stops you can bash out on your keyboard. 
It’s a separate character, just like any other punctuation mark.
And it consists of three full stops. No more. No less. 
Three.

How do I make an ellipsis?

To make an ellipsis in Word on a PC, hit:
Ctrl + Alt + full stop
​To make an ellipsis on a Mac, it’s:
Option + ;
Bingo, you have an ellipsis just like this one 
Doing this uses only one character space, instead of three when you use full stops, which is useful when character numbers are limited, for example on Twitter.

​How do I use an ellipsis?

An ellipsis has two uses in a sentence:

1 An ellipsis shows that a sentence is unfinished. It is used when the writer has left something unsaid or when a sentence tails off.

For example, in your story, a character may arrive home after a hard day at work and say this to her partner:
I forgot to buy a bottle of wine. I suppose we could manage without it …
Here, the unsaid words are ‘but I really want you to go out and get one. Right now!’

​2 An ellipsis is also used to show you have left out text from a direct quote.

Here is a quote from this website:
‘I work for a variety of publishers … in both print and digital format.’
Here, the omitted text is ‘on course books, supplementary materials, website content and promotional materials‘.
The ellipsis is used here to remove some extra information that may not be necessary in the context in which the quote is being used, or to make a long extract fit the page better.

Should I put a space before an ellipsis?

The ellipsis can be closed up, that is, without a space before and after it…like this.
And it can be open, with a space either side … like this.
These are style decisions, not hard and fast rules, but, as ever, be consistent in how you decide to use your ellipses.
Sometimes the ellipsis can be put inside square brackets […] when it is used to indicate omitted text from a quote, as in the second example. This is more common in academic texts or formal writing.
 So there you are – an ellipsis is an individual character, and there are two reasons for using it. I hope that will help you the next time you want to use one!
(Oh, and the plural of ellipsis is ellipses, not ellipsises or ellipsi!)

Over to you!

What do you think? Does it bother you if someone uses four, or six, or eight dots?
If this is new information to you, do you think you’ll make an effort to make and use an ellipsis correctly, or is it really not that important to you?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and any suggestions for future topics to include in my Worry-free Writing series.
If there’s a grammar point you’re not clear on, or punctuation mark you’re not sure  about, drop in a comment below, or tweet me using the hashtag #WorryFreeWriting.
For my take on language and writing, and general musings on working for yourself, why not sign up to hear about updates to my blog?
As a thank you, you’ll get a copy of my free ebook, Creating Your Style Sheet, to help you be more consistent in your writing.

 

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