From the Editor’s Eye
The 10 Most Common Errors Made by Writers
(And How to Fix Them)
The fourth of a ten-part series.
#7. Three Dots and Out: Give Your Ellipsis Elbow Room
Ellipsis points indicate omitted text or, in dialogue, hesitation. Ellipses are also used in “three-dot journalism” (gossip columns) to give the impression of rambling thoughts.
An ellipsis comprises three points or dots. Sometimes you see four dots, but that’s when the mark is used at the end of a complete sentence—the first dot is the “period” at the end of the sentence, followed by the three dots of the ellipsis. This usage is common in academic works when the writer includes an excerpt from reference material and leaves out some of the text.
The ellipsis is separated from the text by a space before and after. None of the three dots is a period—that’s a separate punctuation mark. Think of it this way: The ellipsis is replacing a word or phrase, so treat it the same way—give it elbow room.
You can use it for omission or hesitation, but is it too annoying?
Most people who use ellipses in e-mail overdo it—a lot.
—Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl
- This is a complete sentence followed by an ellipsis. . . . Note the period at the end of the sentence, followed by the three dots.
- This sentence has . . . words left out. Note the single space preceding the ellipsis and the single space following the ellipsis.
- While delivering his lecture, the speaker . . . uh . . . hesitated before continuing.
If you place an ellipsis at the end of an incomplete sentence to indicate a trailing off of a comment (Don’t over do it!), use the same styling described above: insert a space after the final word, followed by the three dots of the ellipsis.
Remember, none of the dots is a “period”—that’s the reason for the ellipsis. For example:
- Joe rambled on. “As I was saying . . .”
Do It in Style
Styling an ellipsis can be problematic, especially when at the mercy of so-called “smart” technology prevalent in word processors.
When you’re in draft writing mode, insert three dots with a space between each one: dot-space-dot-space-dot. However, this can leave you with bad breaks at the end of a line.
To keep all of the dots together, use a non-breaking space between the dots: Hold down the Ctrl and Shift keys as you press the Spacebar. Yes, this is a pain the ass.
I get around this by using two (and sometimes three) methods:
- I program MS Word to do it for me. (See the Tip below.)
- I create a macro that does a Search and Replace of the entire manuscript to find all of the ellipses with normal spaces and replace them with an ellipsis styled with non-breaking spaces. One mouse click and I’m done.
- If the word processor automatically inserts preprogrammed ellipses, I create a macro to replace them, as described in method #2.
TIP: Microsoft Word allows you to set up a series of keystrokes to create a different result, and that becomes automatic as you type. (See the link to instructions in Resources below.) For example, when I type three dots in a row, it inserts an ellipsis styled as three dots separated by non-breaking spaces; i.e., if the ellipsis is at the end of a line of text, it forces a line break and the entire sequence is wrapped to the next line, rather than breaking the dots apart.
Yes, I am well aware that the geniuses at Microsoft have programmed an ellipsis for you. However, as you should know by now, Microsoft does not always insert punctuation marks correctly, or play well with others. (I will address this again in the blog about apostrophes.) The MS ellipsis is too small and compact for my eye, AND, when imported into a desktop-publishing or typesetting program, it might not be recognized and produce that annoying little square box in its stead.
References & Resources:
- The Associated Press Stylebook
- The Chicago Manual of Style
- Grammar Girl: Use of the Ellipsis
- MS Word: Add text to the AutoCorrect list
- Resources for Writers, Editors, and Indie Publishers
Still to come:
#6. A Tense Moment: Word Context, Past & Present
#5. Dash It All! Part A: Hyphen and En Dash
#4. Dash It All! Part B: Em Dash
#3. Pronounflagration: Pronoun Profusion, Confusion, Contusion
#2. Apostrophic Calamity: Apostrophe vs. Dumb Quotes
#1. Verbal Abuse: Lie Down with Lay & Related Verb Warps
Extra: My Language Pet Peeves