Ellipses

I have to admit it! I am a huge fan of the ellipsis (or ellipses if we are using the plural). I don’t use it too often in professional writing, but I notice I am prone to using it in more casual and personal communications such as Facebook or in an email.

It’s a habit I’m trying to kick. Normally I use it to indicate there is more to follow (a teaser if you will), or more often than not, a trailing off or unfinished thought. In all honesty, it can be very annoying for the reader if you use it too often – just as it would be in speech if you kept trailing off into the distance half way through a conversation. So if I were giving you my professional advice, I would say use the ellipsis sparingly and only in the correct context.

That said, I am often surprised by the number of people who don’t realise these three dots are a grammatical mark and mean something specific, similar to a question mark or exclamation mark.

These three little dots shouldn’t turn into four or five little dots in a sentence, because quite frankly, that doesn’t mean anything.

The use of an ellipsis means there is an omission – usually an intentional omission of words from the original text. An ellipsis can also be used to indicate an unfinished thought or, at the end of a sentence, a trailing off into silence. When you see the ellipsis in copy, it means you as the reader are being asked to pause almost slightly absent-mindedly.

In a professional environment the ellipsis may be used if you are quoting someone but you want to shorten the quote. Of course you cannot change the quote, but you can shorten it in this way. I may have used them from time to time when writing editorial, but you will have to adhere to whatever the house style guide says on the subject.

The most common form of an ellipsis is a row of three full stops (…) or a pre-composed triple-dot glyph (…). There is also some debate as to whether the ellipsis should start straight after a word with no space, or whether there should be a space before the ellipsis begins. Again, this is a matter for house style, but generally speaking you should insert a space before the start of the ellipsis.

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