Do You Use Ellipses with Confidence?

Do Ellipses Confuse You?

I use ellipses often in dialogue in my novels, and I have never been totally one hundred percent clear on the correct way to show them… A lot of questions come to mind when you start thinking about them.
            Q.    Do you create an ellipsis by typing three periods?
            A.    The answer is—yes, an ellipsis is made up of three periods
Q.   Do you put a space between the periods?
A.   Yes—no—maybe. No one seems to agree on one way or the other. Some say you should type three periods with spaces between each, but others say just type three periods.  Alternatively, hold down Ctrl and Alt and hit the period button and Word will insert an ellipsis.
Q.   Is there a space between an ellipsis and adjacent words and/or other punctuation marks?
A.   Same as above—some say yes, others say no.
Q.   Is it necessary to put a period after an ellipsis?
A.   I hate to say it, but the experts don’t seem to have a definitive answer. I personally do not—but I do put a space between an ellipsis and a new sentence. Putting a period after an ellipsis does seem to cause some confusion, and I have seen works with four periods—and the writers seem to think they are making an ellipsis. I’ve even seen five or six……
So basically, it seems you can create ellipses any way you want, unless you are writing for an organization that specifies how they want you to do it, like Associated Press Style. They want to see a space between ellipses and adjacent words.

So what is an ellipsis used for?

They are used to indicate missing words, lines or paragraphs in quoted passages. In fiction, they are used in dialogue to show uncertainty or unfinished thoughts or sentences.
The Chicago Manual of Style states: “Ellipsis points suggest faltering or fragmented speech, accompanied by confusion, insecurity, distress, or uncertainty.”
After a few minutes, Audrey stopped sobbing and blew her nose noisily. “I’m so sorry,” she whimpered. “I’m not usually so…”
“I… I don’t know. I thought… It’s a special watch.”

Ellipses vs Dashes

So how do you know when to use an ellipsis and when it is better to use a dash?
The Chicago Manual of Style says dashes should be used for more confident and decisive pauses.
So, you can use an em dash to indicate a pause, or break in your train of thought, or a change to another train of thought in the same sentence.
“And a word of warning—if I were you—I’d keep away from that Powell fella.”
“Please—don’t apologize.” Riley smiled at her.


6 thoughts on “Do You Use Ellipses with Confidence?

  1. Thanks for posting about ellipses. In the absence of guidelines from whoever you're writing for, I guess the best thing to do is just be consistent. Also, it's probably best not to overuse them, IMHO.
    BTW: I found your blog through LinkedIn's “Got a Blog/Site – Post it Here” group.

  2. Hi Trish, nice post. I think ellipses and em dashes are often overused and used when a writer is too lazy or can't find a way to make a proper sentence. I use the ellises the way you described and follow the Chicago Manual of Style. My publisher says the ellipses with four dots should only be used when it's at the end of the last sentence–as opposed to just stopping a sentence and picking up the same train of thought. In the books I review, I see the ellipses the way I write them . . . like this. I was overusing em dashes myself and now try to only use them for special effects.

    This is a post sorely needd–thanks!

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