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There are two reasons to use ellipsis points:
- Many writers use ellipsis points to show faltering, fragmented or interrupted speech in dialogue or, in some cases, as a stylistic device to capture the attention of the reader, often used in lieu of a dash or colon.
- Ellipsis points are used to indicate omission of quoted material. There are three methods an author may follow depending upon the type of work involved. (I will not be addressing the rules for this here, as this is mainly a fiction archive. However, if you should have need of the rule, use the link above to e-mail me a question.)
The correct form of ellipsis points is as follows:
Rules to follow regarding fragmented speech:
- Ellipsis points are three evenly spaced periods. A space usually precedes and follows each ellipsis point. (Although, in newspaper style, the spaces are usually omitted because of limited space.)
- Ex: “It seems that Tom . . . oh, how well I recall it now . . . Tom made a terrible mistake.”
- Ellipsis points should never be split between two lines. However, if any preceding punctuation may remain on the line above and the ellipsis points continued on the following line.
- No more than three points are used, whether they appear in the middle or at the end of the sentence.
- Alternatively, some reference texts state that it is okay to use ellipsis points as three periods with a space following.
- Ex. “I thought that we were... going to the ball together.”
- Unless you are writing for a newspaper, and space is limited, ellipsis points are never used without spaces. On TPP, we will always ask that you follow one of the forms above and have at the very least a space following the ellipsis points.
- A comma, period, question mark or exclamation point may follow a set of ellipsis points.
- Ex: “But how could it be . . . ?” she asked.
- When ellipsis points end a statement in dialogue, the usual form of punctuation (comma, period, question mark or exclamation point) precedes the closing quotation mark.
- Ex: “But . . . I don’t know . . . ,” Nancy said.
- When the sentence is left unfinished, it is not appropriate to place a period (full stop) after the ellipsis points (to make a fourth dot).
- Ex: “I just couldn’t bring myself to ask her what if . . .”
- However, if the sentence trails away but completes a thought, a fourth dot (full stop) should be placed.
- Ex: “I asked her anyway, even though it was difficult . . . .”
- Any new sentence after the ellipsis points must begin with a capital letter.
- Ex: “I just can’t believe it. You mean he . . . he . . . Wasn’t he a suspect two years ago?”
- Ellipsis points should not be used to show interruptions or abrupt changes of thought. These are usually indicated by em dashes.
- Ex: “Janice, I—,” he began, but Janice cut him off with a slap.
The references used for this excerpt were: The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition,
Merriam-Webster's Manual for Writers & Editors
and Chambers Perfect Punctuation.