Punctuation: The Ellipsis

Definition: a punctuation mark (…) indicating an omission from speech or writing of a word or words that are superfluous or able to be understood from contextual clues.

Note: Do not rely on grammar or spelling checkers to identify missing or misused punctuation. Although a checker may flag possibly missing or incorrect marks, it cannot do much else. While I still recommend using these AI checkers while you’re writing, I insist that you also trust a qualified human being to copyedit any work that you are working toward publishing.

An ellipsis, or ellipsis points, are three points indicating a break in dialogue or omitted information. They can either be spaced or unspaced, depending on the style/language used.

To Indicate Uncertainty:

Use ellipsis points in dialogue to demonstrate uncertainty.

  • e.g. “Can…can you come with me?” Martha asked.
  • e.g. “I don’t know…,” whispered Parker.

To Indicate Missing Material:

When inserting a quote with missing material, use ellipsis points where the material is omitted. It may also come up in dialogue, in which the beginning, middle, or end of the dialogue is missing or simply intelligible.

  • e.g. “A hat should be taken off when you greet a lady and left off […] nothing looks more stupid than a hat.”
  • e.g. “…are we going?” [assume the word “where” is the missing word]

After a Sentence:

If the ellipsis points fall at the end of a sentence, finish it as you normally would by adding a period after.

  • e.g. I suppose we can’t go after all….

With Other Punctuation:

Ellipses are most often seen in quotes or dialogue. Within quotation marks, ellipsis points can be combined with periods, commas, and question marks. It is debated whether using ellipses with exclamation marks is correct.

  • e.g. “What are you doing…?”
  • e.g. “I don’t wanna go…,” Macey whined sleepily.
  • e.g. Mark said, “I really don’t think….”

For further information, see my other Punctuation articles:


Aaron, J.E. & Morrison, A. The Little, Brown Compact Handbook, 5th Canadian ed. Pearson, 2013, chap 5

Judd, K. Copyediting, A Practical Guide, 3rd ed. California, CA: Crisp Learning, 2001, chap 4

10 responses to “Punctuation: The Ellipsis”

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: