Punctuation Made Easy: The Ellipsis
Updated: Jul 3, 2021
The purpose of this #writerssupportingwriters blog is to run through the rules of ellipsis use to help romance authors/all writers. Below you can find the ellipsis rules, examples so you can see the punctuation type at work and tips for use.
The word ellipsis originates from Greek and roughly means 'to leave out'. An ellipsis is a series of three dots (which is why it also gets referred to as dot, dot, dot). This type of punctuation is used to:
· signal an unfinished thought or speech;
· signal an omission/where something is left out, for example, words within a quotation;
· create a pause which can create tension and suspense as the reader must wait for the next action or thought;
· signal the passage of time;
· show disjointed thoughts.
Example: signal an unfinished thought or speech.
An ellipsis hasn’t always been written as three dots. In the 1800s a hyphen (-) was used for the same function (we use a hyphen differently today).
One of the earliest examples of the ellipsis is in this extract from Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. Here, the ellipsis represents the trailing off of speech.
"It was several days before Willoughby's name was mentioned before Marianne by any of her family; Sir John and Mrs. Jennings, indeed, were not so nice; their witticisms added pain to many a painful hour;—but one evening, Mrs. Dashwood, accidentally taking up a volume of Shakespeare, exclaimed,
"We have never finished Hamlet, Marianne; our dear Willoughby went away before we could get through it. We will put it by, that when he comes again... But it may be months, perhaps, before THAT happens."
Example: signal an omission/where something is left out.
James Joyce uses the ellipses to show omission in the short story The Sisters. In this story, two women are discussing the death of a priest. Because of the uncomfortable topic of death, words remain unsaid out of politeness.
“Did he … peacefully?” she asked.
“Oh, quite peacefully, ma’am,” said Eliza. “You couldn’t tell when the breath went out of him. He had a beautiful death, God be praised.”
Example: signal the passage of time.
This example is taken from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
“... I was standing beside his bed and he was sitting up between the sheets, clad in his underwear, with a great portfolio in his hands.”
Example: show disjointed thoughts and tension.
This example is taken from Ray Bradbury. Here the character is racing home and Bradbury uses an ellipsis to show the fragmented nature of the character’s thoughts as she feels panic.
“And there, silly thing to notice – why did she notice, instantly, no time, no time – but there it was anyway, flashing by – there on the porch rail, the half-filled glass of lemonade she had abandoned a long time ago, a year, half an evening ago! The lemonade glass sitting calmly, imperturbably there on the rail… and…”
To see more examples from literature of the ellipsis at work for different effects click here.
Tips for Using an Ellipsis
An ellipsis should always be three dots;
You can use an ellipsis at the start of a sentence, in the middle, or at the end depending upon the effect you are trying to achieve;
Like any advanced punctuation type, an ellipsis should be used sparingly;
The rules for layout of the ellipsis will depend upon your editor/publisher. Most style guides call for no spaces between the ellipsis points (i.e., …), but some may allow for spaces (i.e., . . .);
If another form of punctuation comes at the end (such as a question mark) this is separate to the ellipsis so should be included as usual (i.e., …?).
I wish the #writingcommunity all the best in their writing adventures!
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