Punctuation: Ellipsis

This blog continues the Punctuation series by introducing the Ellipsis.

Sentence Enders:  The Ellipsis

The ellipsis joins the discussion of Sentence Enders only because one form of it contains a period.

Previously, we talked about the classic sentence enders:  the period, the question mark, and the exclamation mark.  We also discussed sentence length and variety.

The ellipsis comes into play most often when we are dealing with researched information.

Quoting with an Ellipsis

The ellipsis is used when quoting portions of an extended passage.  One example of this use is the periodic sentence, in which only the base elements are wanted and not the additional details.  A second example occurs with a paragraph, in which only the opening and concluding sentences (the topic and clincher) are necessary.

Take care when preparing to use an ellipsis.

  • Do not select only the portions of the original text that support your ideas. Your use will change the meaning of the original text.
  • Remember that using someone else’s words and original ideas requires three things to avoid plagiarism.
    1. Place double quotation marks around any use of other people’s words.
    2. The citation information is placed with the quoted words in order to give credit to the original writer. The citation information may be a footnote or an abbreviated word that references to the bibliography or source list.
    3. Source information—either as a footnote, end note, or Works Cited entry—states the location of the information for anyone checking behind you.[1]
    4. Maintain the original text without alteration. Should you need to alter the original, additional special punctuation marks are required.

The ellipsis is one of those ticky punctuation marks that requires consistency.  And careless writers most often don’t pay attention to the difference in the forms of the ellipsis or the basic rules for use and practice.

It comes in two forms > . . .  and . . . .  3 dots and 4 dots.

The dots represent the words you leave out of the original material.  On the four-dot ellipsis, the last dot is actually the period for the end of the sentence.

Some people prefer not to space between the dots.  Pick which form you will follow and stick with it.

Some people prefer not to space before the dots.  If you space before them, you must space afterwards.  MLA (the Modern Language Association) and other style guides require spacing before and after the ellipsis.

When you take the beginning and end of the sentence, then the three dots are used.  Careful!  You must maintain a complete sentence.

When you take a sentence from one spot in a paragraph then lift a second sentence from later in that paragraph, then use the four-dot version to show the period and the words left out between these two sentences in the original form.

Brackets and the Ellipsis

If you need to change tense or add an -s- to maintain agreement with a noun or if you need to add in a conjunction or the like to keep a complete sentence, then place the addition inside brackets, as in forest[s].

Best Use

It is possible to take a portion of an opening sentence (enough to maintain the writer’s intention) and continue with a portion of a later sentence by using an ellipsis for the link.  Possible is not always the best solution.

The best solution is to use all of the portion of a writer’s text that will prove your point.  Just quote the entirety of the passage, always remembering the three requirements to avoid plagiarism (quotation marks, citation information, and source information).

Owl Purdue offers examples so you can see the ellipsis “in action”.  The explanation is clear but not expanded.  You can find OWL here.

[1] More information on the proper use of quoted material and source information can be located in the separate chapter on Research.