5 ways to use ellipsis points

Ellipsis points (. . .) are used to show omissions in quoted text or pauses in text.  Three ellipsis points are used if the omission is within a single sentence.  A period and three ellipsis points are used if the omission bridges more than a single sentence.

When are ellipsis points used?  When citing text, ellipsis points are often used.  When writing dialog, ellipsis points are also used to show pauses in speech or thinking.

To show what I mean, let’s use a part of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address  as an example:

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.”

If the quoted material that comes before the ellipsis is not a complete sentence, use three ellipsis points with a space before and after the first and last point. For example, “We have come to dedicate a portion of that field . . . for those who here gave their lives.”

If the quoted material comes before or after a sentence, use a period for the sentence as well as three ellipsis points. For example, “Now we are engaged in a great civil war. . . . We are met on a great battle-field of that war.”  (The period goes next to the last word of the sentence without a space even if that word does not end the sentence in the original text.)

If one or more sentences are omitted, use a period for the end of a sentence followed by three ellipsis points. For example, “We are met on a great battle-field of that war.  .  .  . It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.”

If a full line or more of poetry is omitted, use a complete line of spaced periods. For example, from Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,”

The woods are lovely, dark and deep

But I have promises to keep,

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

And miles to go before I sleep.

If you want to show a pause in speech or thought, use three ellipsis points plus a space before the first one and after the last one. For example, “Well . . . I’m not sure I want to go.”

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