Somehow I seem to have bypassed the ellipsis when I covered punctuation in these writing tips, but let me assure you the ellipsis and its friendly plural relatives, the ellipses, are punctuation marks, too.
The two primary uses of the ellipsis are (1) to indicate words left out of quoted material and (2) faltering speech in dialogue.
Before we can discuss the uses, however, let’s be clear what this punctuation looks like. We’re talking about three little dots, sometimes created with space in between (the manner favored by The Chicago Manual of Style) and sometimes created by an ellipsis character with no space other than the ones separating it from the words of the sentence.
Let me illustrate. Here’s the opening paragraph from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” retold by Rohini Chowdhury:
- Once, long ago, there lived an Emperor who loved new clothes. He loved clothes so much that he thought of nothing else all day and spent all his time and money in acquiring more and more, ever more beautiful clothes.
To quote this material but leave some portion of it out, would look like this using The Chicago Manual of Style method:
- Once, long ago, there lived an Emperor who . . . spent all his time and money in acquiring more and more, ever more beautiful clothes.
Or, if using the ellipsis character, it would look like this:
- Once, long ago, there lived an Emperor who … spent all his time and money in acquiring more and more, ever more beautiful clothes.
It’s important to remember that in omitting a portion of quoted material, a writer must be certain to retain the author’s original intent. In other words I could not use the ellipsis to say something like this:
- “Once, long ago, there lived an Emperor who . . . thought of nothing.”
On the other hand, the writer quoting the material has some flexibility with punctuation and capitalization. For instance, a writer can start the quoted material with a capital letter and without an ellipsis even though he isn’t starting at the same place the original author did:
- There lived an Emperor who loved new clothes.
At the same time, when ending quoted material in a different place than the author, a writer can use a period rather than an ellipsis, as long as he is not changing the intent of the original:
- He loved clothes so much that he thought of nothing else all day.
In addition, if the quote isn’t quite right, either structurally to fit into a sentence, or factually to provide the needed content, a writer can add pertinent material inside brackets, like this:
- [The Emperor] loved clothes so much that he thought of nothing else all day.
But back to the ellipsis. If the portion of the quoted material that is omitted follows a complete sentence, the period is retained, but it is snug to the word, which differentiates it from the ellipsis:
- Once, long ago, there lived an Emperor who loved new clothes…. He thought of nothing else all day and spent all his time and money in acquiring more and more, ever more beautiful clothes.
The ellipsis can also show up in dialogue in faltering speech, not to be confused with interrupted speech.
“I don’t care what you think,” Danny shouted, “you can’t take my –” His brother slammed the door and stomped down the steps.
“Let me see.” Jill tapped a finger to her chin. “I can’t remember if I’ve . . .” She shrugged. “What did you ask?”
Notice in the last example that the quotation mark comes directly after the last dot of the ellipsis, and would do so even if the ellipsis character is used.
Those are the basics. Now you can chop up those quotes for your blog posts with integrity. And your characters can stumble over their words or forget their lines as much as you desire. 😀
4 responses to “Ellipses Are Punctuation Marks, Too”
Would you say that even a novel’s narrator could be interrupted (resulting in a long dash), or in some sense “falter” (resulting in an ellipsis)? If so, it seems this could be overdone, perhaps, of course … just as —
Well, several authors use this technique all the time, and sometimes too much.
Yes, Stephen, I can see instances when an omniscient narrator might interrupt himself or falter, so both the em dash and the ellipsis might be used. And yes, I think it’s possible to overuse that construction, like any other construction. In one critique session I was told I use too many parentheticals set off by em dashes. In days gone by, I would have used commas, but the em dash is, in my mind, somewhere between the comma and the parenthesis — it isn’t quite an aside nor is it closely related to the rest of the sentence; rather, it’s explanatory. I mention that simply to illustrate that even a good thing can be overused, as I learned in that critique.
Thanks for taking the time to expand this topic, Stephen. 😀
I always learn some new trick of the trade when I read this blog. Kudos
Thanks, Karl. I’m so glad you find it helpful! And I appreciate you taking the time to give such encouraging feedback. 😀