The ellipsis (the plural is ellipses) consists of three evenly spaced full stops, though many typefaces have a specially designed ellipsis that is often subtly different to three plain full stops. The tendency seen in some publications to use four or more full stops as an ellipsis (….), or to place spaces between each point (. . .), should be firmly avoided.

Ellipses are used in the following ways:

  1. To indicate words omitted in a quotation:
    • Admiral Nelson wrote: “The business of the English commander-in-chief being first to bring an enemy fleet to battle … and … continue them there until the business is decided.”
    • John F. Kennedy said in a speech, “Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man … No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.”
  2. To indicate a pause in the flow of thought, or a trail off:
    • Startled, she answered, “Well … um … I mean … I suppose so.”
    • “Oh, dear … did I do that?”
    • Harriet was about to leave … but something made her stop.
    • “Well, I’ll be …” he said, suddenly embarrassed.
  3. To indicate a word cut off mid speech:
    • Just before being fatally shot, the general boasted: “They couldn’t hit a barn door from that dist…” [No space before the ellipsis when used to indicate a cut-off word.]
    • “I hear you loud and cl…!” was the last communication they had from the stricken submarine.
    Note: generally, the ellipses takes a space before and after … but there are exceptions:
    1. when used to indicate a word is cut off, use no space before the ellipsis; [See example 3 above.]
    2. when used to start or end a quote or dialogue, leave no space between the ellipsis and the quotation mark: Mahatma Ghandi once said, “… we must be doing something to be happy.”
    3. Except for quotation marks, question marks and exclamation marks, no punctuation mark should follow or precede an ellipsis: When Oscar Wilde asked, “… what is the difference between literature and journalism …?”, he left no doubt about his opinion of the latter when he replied: “… Journalism is unreadable and literature is not read …!”
    Note: many publishers, particularly in the US, leave no space between the last letter and the ellipsis… as a matter of course. This is now so widespread as to be acceptable… but you should ensure that your document is consistent throughout, whichever convention you adopt.

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