An ellipsis [ … ] is a handy device used to omit some words when you’re quoting material. The ellipsis consists of three evenly spaced dots (periods) with spaces between the ellipsis and surrounding letters or other marks. Let’s take the sentence, “The ceremony honoured twelve brilliant athletes from the Caribbean who were visiting Canada” and leave out “from the Caribbean who were”:
- The ceremony honoured twelve brilliant athletes … visiting Canada.
If the omission comes after the end of a sentence, the ellipsis will be placed after the period, making a total of four dots.… Notice that there is no space between the period and the last character of the sentence.
Ellipsis as a Pause
The ellipsis can also be used to indicate a pause in the flow of a sentence and is especially useful in quoted speech:
Ellipsis indicating pause in a sentence
|Juan thought and thought … and then thought some more.|
Ellipsis used to indicate a pause in a quoted speech
|“I’m wondering …” Juan said, bemused.|
Note carefully the spacing of the ellipsis marks and the surrounding characters in the examples above. In mid-sentence, a space should appear between the first and last ellipsis marks and the surrounding letters. If a quotation is meant to trail off (as in Juan’s bemused thought), leave a space between the last letter and the first ellipsis mark but do not include a period with the ellipsis marks.
Leaving Out Words at the End or Beginning of a Sentence
If words are left off at the end of a sentence, and that is all that is omitted, indicate the omission with ellipsis marks (preceded and followed by a space) and then indicate the end of the sentence with a period: … . If one or more sentences are omitted, end the sentence before the ellipsis with a period and then insert your ellipsis marks with a space on both sides. … As in this example.
When words at the beginning of a quoted sentence are omitted, it is not necessary to use an ellipsis to indicate that words have been left out when that fragment can fit into the flow of your text.
The ellipsis should be regarded as one unit and should not be broken at the end of a line. Toward that end, it is useful to know the code that will create an unbroken and unbreakable ellipsis for you on the word-processing program you are using. On most machines, it’s a simple matter of holding down the option key and hitting the semicolon, but this varies from program to program. To avoid problems when you reformat a paper (change margins, font sizes, etc.), the spaces that surround the ellipsis should also be created as “non-breaking spaces.”
An Ellipsis You’ve Added vs. an Original in the Text
The MLA Handbook recommends using square brackets on either side of the ellipsis points to distinguish between an ellipsis that you’ve added and the ellipses that might have been in the original text. Such a bracketed ellipsis in a quotation would look like this:
- “Bohr […] used the analogy of parallel stairways […]” (Smith 55).
(Other research manuals — the APA Publication Manual and the Chicago Manual of Style — do not address this use of bracketed ellipses.)
The plural of ellipsis is ellipses (handy to remember when you’re playing Scrabble), but the points themselves (the dots that make up the ellipsis) are called ellipsis points or ellipsis marks.