On Writing: Let’s Talk Grammar and Punctuation for a While
(Post Number Seven)
The Flippant Ellipsis
The little ellipsis, that is, three little periods in a row … is a quirky little punctuation form that tricks many a good writer, mainly because the writer might be confusing its use with other punctuation marks that would be more effective.
Let’s take a look at the most common uses for the ellipsis and some examples of how to use it properly. By the way, the plural of ellipsis is ellipses.
A Beginning and End of a Quote
Since it is assumed that you are taking a quote from a larger context in most cases, the ellipsis points should NOT be placed before or after a scripture verse or quoted passage unless the quote is a sentence fragment:
Example One: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 (No ellipsis is placed anywhere because the verse is quoted in its entirety.)
Example Two: “For by grace are ye saved through faith ….” Ephesians 2:8a (Ellipsis WITH a period)
Yes that’s right. When you use an ellipsis at the end of a sentence fragment, and it is followed by either a reference, another complete sentence or verse, add a period to the ellipsis.
This is probably the most popular use for the ellipsis. The three little dots should be used to indicate faltering or fragmented speech that implies uncertainty, confusion, distress, and the like:
Example One: “The horse … it’s running away … with the child on its back!” yelled Tom.
Example Two: “Oh, dear, … my new glasses … where did I put them?” Bill asked his wife.
Example Three: When Sue woke up she asked, “Where am I … huh … was I dreaming?”
Use an ellipsis anytime you are writing a sentence, passage, or Bible verse that you’ve purposely omitted part. The ellipsis in this structure is used most often with scripture verses:
Example One: Psalm 30:5 states, “For his anger endureth but a moment; … weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”
Example Two: “… but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation ….” (1 Timothy 4:12b)
When to Use the Period at the End of the Ellipsis (Known as the Four-dot Ellipsis)
Besides using the four-dot ellipsis at the end of a quoted scripture verse as in the previous example, remember to use it when you have another complete sentence following the fragment and ellipsis:
Example One: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for …. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” (Hebrews 11:1, 3)
Example Two: Jerry couldn’t help wondering why Jane was so late for her rendezvous with him at the restaurant. I hope she didn’t forget …. No, she didn’t forget, he told himself. She’s just running a little late, as usual.
Spacing with an Ellipsis
Whenever using an ellipsis in the middle of a sentence, put a space before and after it:
Example: “You may go out for recess … if you’ve finished your seatwork,” the teacher told her class.
Whenever using an ellipsis at the beginning or ending of a quote, do NOT insert a space between the ellipsis and the quotation mark:
Example One: “Well, I believe so ….”
Example Two: “… as I said before.”
So, there you have examples of the most common uses for the ellipsis. Just remember that when using it at the end of a sentence or a quote, the ellipsis indicates confusion or uncertainty. If you’re trying to portray a character’s speech abruptly interrupting another character’s speech, then use an em dash not an ellipsis:
Example: Fred chased after his little brother Tommy in the yard and yelled, “You little brat! I’m going to—”
“You’re going to what?” Tommy sassed back.
(And remember to put your quotation mark at the end first then backspace to insert the em dash or your quotation mark will be backwards.)
Using an ellipsis at the end of Fred’s dialogue would indicate that he was thinking about something else to say and had time to do so. But that’s not the implication here. We want to imply that Tommy cut Fred’s words right off.
I trust this will help you to decide to be a little more daring in your writing and use an ellipsis once in a while. Different punctuation marks do make a difference. They bring your writing style to life and keep your readers hooked!
Next time we’ll look at the itinerant italics.