What are Ellipsis Points?

Woods Wheatcroft/Getty Images

Ellipsis points are three equally spaced points ( . . . ) commonly used in writing or printing to indicate the omission of words in a quotation. They are also known as ellipsis dots, suspension points, or simply ellipsis.

From the Greek, "to leave out" or "fall short."

Examples and Observations

"If you omit words, phrases, sentences, or even paragraphs in a quotation because they are irrelevant, do not change or misrepresent the meaning of the original quotation. . . .

"To indicate the omission of a word, phrase, or sentence, use ellipsis dots  three periods with spaces between them. . . . Since the dots stand for words omitted, they always go inside the quotation marks or block quotation. Leave a space between the last quoted word or punctuation mark and the first ellipsis dot and another space after the last dot before the next word or punctuation mark."
(Kate L. Turabian, et al. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers, 7th ed. University of Chicago Press, 2007)

Original Sentence

"Points of ellipsis have two main functions: to indicate the omission of words within something that is being quoted, as discussed in Rule 2-17, and to indicate lengthy pauses and trailed-off sentences."

Same sentence with ellipsis points to indicate an omission
"Points of ellipsis have two main functions: to indicate the omission of words within something that is being quoted, . . . and to indicate lengthy pauses and trailed-off sentences."
(Adapted from The Handbook of Good English by Edward Johnson. Washington Square Press, 1991)

What other newspaper would solemnly print the following, which appeared in [The New York] Times for November 2, 1982: "An article . . . Saturday incorrectly stated the number of positions possible for the Rubik's Cube. It is 43,252,003,274,489,856,000."
(Paul Fussell, Class. Touchstone, 1983)

We wake, if we ever wake at all, to mystery, rumors of death, beauty, violence. . . . "Seems like we're just set down here," a woman said to me recently, "and don't nobody know why."
(Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Harper & Row, 1974)

"Staff and family members often have very strong stereotypes about one another,” said Karl Pillemer, a gerontologist at Cornell University who has researched these relationships for 20 years. "The staff sometimes feel families complain excessively — they’re too demanding. On the flip side, families sometimes feel that staff aren’t sufficiently caring, that staff are rude to them. . . . They often feel they have to coach the staff about how to care for their relative."
(Paula Span, "The Nursing Home as Battle Zone." The New York Times, Oct. 7, 2009)

Well, as is shown by the astonishing explosion of books and articles entitled "The Rhetoric of . . ." (see appendix to chapter 2), we are now invited to think hard about the rhetoric of everything."
(Wayne C. Booth, The Rhetoric of Rhetoric: The Quest for Effective Communication. Blackwell, 2004)

More Tips on Using Ellipsis Points

"Never alter quotations even to correct minor grammatical errors or word usage. Casual minor tongue slips may be removed by using ellipses but even that should be done with extreme caution. If there is a question about a quote, either don't use it or ask the speaker to clarify."
(D. Christian et al, The Associated Press Stylebook. Perseus, 2009)
"Use the terminal dash to suggest that a statement suddenly breaks off; use the terminal ellipsis to suggest that it trails away.

As your C.O. I'll have to say no, but as your friend, well--.
The Victorians are secure, but the modern novelists. . . .

(Winston Weathers and Otis Winchester, The New Strategy of Style. McGraw-Hill, 1978)
"Use an ellipsis to indicate that a list goes on beyond those items actually spelled out in the text:

An evil witch, a tap-dancing scarecrow, flying monkeys, an emotionally unstable lion, disturbing Munchkins . . . Dorothy couldn't help but wonder if, in the wonderful Land of Oz, they sold guns."

(Richard Lederer and John Shore, Comma Sense. St. Martin's Press, 2005)

"It's generally understood that quotes are excerpts from routinely drabber material. And you'll be well advised not to start or end a quote with an ellipsis."
(Rene Cappon, Associated Press Guide to Punctuation, 2003)

The Strong Ellipsis

"The strong ellipsis is a very weighty pause — a kind of 'big brother' to the paragraph. It is most often used in novels to denote a significant lapse in time; in nonfiction writing it can be a deftly economical way of signaling the need for further thought and action or that the way forward is shrouded in uncertainty:

It would be good to see him heeding this advice . . .
As to what we do next . . .

To be used sparingly anyway, the strong ellipsis is unlikely to strike writers engaged on academic or professional tasks as an appropriate device very often, if at all."
(Richard Palmer, Write in Style: A Guide to Good English, 2nd ed. Routledge, 2002)

Ellipsis Points in the 20th Century

"In contrast to the unpredictable and extravagant lines of stars or points that burst across the pages of Gothic fiction, the three points have a discretion and a subtlety that highlight the very ordinariness of such dark perspectives at the end of the nineteenth century. And as the three points become increasingly common in the work of early twentieth-century writers--T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf, to name but two--the networks of symmetrical lines connecting one speaker to another and another that characterized Victorian fiction, are transformed into ' . . .', a new icon for a new generation."
(Anne C. Henry, "Ellipsis Marks in a Historical Perspective." The Motivated Sign: Iconicity in Language and Literature, ed. by Olga Fischer and Max Nänny. John Benjamins, 2001)

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "What are Ellipsis Points?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/ellipsis-points-punctuation-1690639. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). What are Ellipsis Points? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/ellipsis-points-punctuation-1690639 Nordquist, Richard. "What are Ellipsis Points?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/ellipsis-points-punctuation-1690639 (accessed March 22, 2023).