What is an ellipsis and when do you use it?

An ellipsis is the three periods or dots you sometimes come across in writing. (Plural: ellipses) Stemmed from a Greek word meaning ‘leave out’, it does just that— show that something has been left out or omitted. Some writers use spaces between dots (. . .), other’s don’t (…). This is not a hard and fast rule, but a matter of style. Whether or not you choose to put spaces between the dots, just be sure to remain consistent throughout your manuscript.

When do you use an ellipsis?

  1. When quoting, to indicate that there have been words omitted from the original sentence or source. E.g.

Original quote: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” – Stephen King

Quote with omission: “If you want to be a writer, you must . . . read a lot and write a lot.” – Stephen King

2. To imply to the reader an action or incident that follows. E.g.

She stood and faced him. This time he was not going to hurt her. And if he tried, then . . .

3. When dialogue or thought trails off. E.g.

Where was Jake, Alice wondered, tapping her fingers on the coffee table. Maybe he was stuck in traffic. Maybe . . . Oh what the hell!

4. When a character pauses to think or lighten the meaning of their words. E.g.

“Is this the, um . . . you know, new project? Karen asked.

“He is rather . . . eccentric,” Maria said.

Do you use ellipses in your writing? Share your thoughts or tips in the comments.

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