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    The Lovely Ellipsis

    The ellipsis—we've all seen it and most likely used it. This piece of punctuation is often abused in informal writing, such social networking and email. So what is the correct way to use it? There are several.

    First let's establish what an ellipsis is. The ellipsis is three periods, not five, seven, two, or eight. There is a method where a four-dot ellipsis can be used, but a four-dot ellipsis is simply a three-dot ellipsis preceded by a period. I commonly see writers throwing a multitude of periods after a sentence for various reasons,  but writers should not do this. Three periods is both sufficient and correct.

    The first way to use the ellipsis is most common in nonfiction writing. It is most commonly used to indicate that a portion of some quoted material is missing. For example, "God so loved . . . he gave his only begotten son" (John 3:16). The ellipsis in this quote indicates that part of the quote is missing. This use of the ellipse is pretty uncommon in fiction because other material is rarely quoted in fiction.

    You might notice that although John 3:16 continues after "only begotten son," I did not include an ellipsis after it. I also didn't start the quote with an ellipsis, even though the quote begins with the word "for." This is because Bible verses should not begin or end with ellipses unless the context demands it (e.g., it results in a sentence fragment). Also, introductory words, such as for, and, therefore, but, etc., can be omitted without inserting an ellipsis.

    The second case where ellipses should be used is more common in fiction writing. Ellipses should be used to indicate trailing off thought or speech. For example, "If only I could fly . . ." They should not be used to indicate that speech has been interrupted or to show an interjection or departure in thought. As discussed in this post, the em dash should be used for this.

    So how do you form an ellipsis? This can vary widely from publisher to publisher. Some publishers I have worked with prefer to use three spaced periods (. . .), while some prefer that authors use three unspaced periods (...) or Word's ellipsis character (…), which is formed by holding down ctrl+alt+the period. Some call for spaces before and after the ellipsis, while some prefer to have no spaces. The important thing, as always, is to pick one method and use it consistently. And of course, if you are still confused, a skilled editor can help you discern whether you're using ellipses correctly. Happy writing!

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