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The ellipsis

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Learn how to use the Ellipsis properly
  • 1. Live Free / Speak Free

2. THE ELLIPSISProves to be a handy device 3. AN ELLIPSIS [ ] PROVES TO BE A HANDY DEVICE when youre quotingmaterial and you want to omit some words. The ellipsis consists ofthree evenly spaced dots (periods) with spaces between the ellipsisand surrounding letters or other marks. If we intentionally omit one ormore words from an original text, we replace them with an ellipsismark.The ellipsis mark is also called a "suspension point" or "dot dot dot".A series of spaced periods is called an ellipsis (the plural, ellipses,rhymes with Gypsies). Lets take the sentence, "The ceremony honored twelve brilliant athletes from the Caribbean who were visiting the U.S." and leave out "from the Caribbean who were": The ceremony honored twelve brilliant athletes visiting the U.S. 4. The Three-dot MethodThere are many methods for using ellipses. The three-dotmethod is the simplest and is appropriate for most generalworks and many scholarly ones. The three- or four-dotmethod and an even more rigorous method used in legalworks require fuller explanations that can be found in otherreference books. To create ellipsis marks with a PC, type theNote period three times and the spacing will be automatically set, or press Ctrl-Alt and the period once. 5. The Rules 6. Rule 1If the omission comes after the end of a sentence, the ellipsis will beplaced after the period, making a total of four dots. See how that works?Notice that there is no space between the period and the last character ofthe sentence. Do we use a space with an ellipsis mark? That is a question of style. Many style manuals recommend no space, like this:three English learners...studying at universityIts not...Others recommend using a space before and after an ellipsis mark, like this: three English learners ... studying at university Its not ... The important thing is that you choose one style and use it consistently. Do not mix your styles. Use no more than three marks whether the omission occurs in the middle of a sentence or between sentences. 7. Example: Original sentence: The regulation states, "All agencies must document overtime or risk losing federal funds." Rewritten using ellipses: The regulation states, "All agencies must document overtime..." NOTE: With the three-dot method, you may leave out punctuation such as commas that were in the original.Example: Original sentence from Lincolns Gettysburg Address: "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Rewritten using ellipses: "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth...a new nation, conceived in liberty..." 8. In formal writing, an ellipsis marks an omission from a quotation.College style manuals now recommend placing brackets around anellipsis in a quotation, to indicate that the ellipsis is not part of theoriginal text. Like the shipwrecked Lycidas, his hopes lie "Sunk [. . .] beneath the watery floor" (167).Writers of narrative use the ellipsis to mark an unfinished statement:The last sound on the flight recorder box was the voice of a flightattendant saying, "I wonder if the strange ticking sound could be. . . ." 9. Rule 2The ellipsis can also be used to indicate a pause in the flow of a sentenceand is especially useful in quoted speech: Juan thought and thought and then thought some more. "Im wondering " Juan said, bemused.We sometimes also use an ellipsis mark to indicate a pause when someone isspeaking, or an unfinished sentence. Look at these examples:She turned to James and said, "Darling, there is something...Ineed to tell you. I have never felt like...like this before.""Its not easy to explain. Its not..." Her voice trailed away asemotion welled up within her. 10. Note carefully the spacing of the ellipsis marks and the surroundingcharacters in the examples above. In mid-sentence, a space shouldappear between the first and last ellipsis marks and the surroundingletters. If a quotation is meant to trail off (as in Juans bemusedthought), leave a space between the last letter and the first ellipsismark but do not include a period with the ellipsis marks.One blank space should precede and follow each period:WRONG: "I I guess so," he stammered. "I. . .I guess so," he stammered.RIGHT: "I . . . I guess so," he stammered. 11. When an ellipsis comes at the end of a sentence, use four periods,with no space before the first one (or three periods followed by aquestion mark or exclamation point).The last words were "I wonder if the ticking sound could be. . . ." Anexplosion followed.Do not divide an ellipsis between lines; all the periods should endone line or begin the next line. 12. Rule 3If words are left off at the end of a sentence, and that is all that isomitted, indicate the omission with ellipsis marks (preceded andfollowed by a space) and then indicate the end of the sentence with aperiod . If one or more sentences are omitted, end the sentencebefore the ellipsis with a period and then insert your ellipsis marks witha space on both sides. As in this example. A coded ellipsis (used in the construction of this page) will appear tighter (with less of a space between the dots) than the use of period-space-period-space-period. 13. Rule 4When words at the beginning of a quoted sentence are omitted, it isnot necessary to use an ellipsis to indicate that words have been leftout when that fragment can fit into the flow of your text. Anexception: in a block quoted fragment, use an ellipsis to indicate anomission: Suppose we want to quote "The film focused on three English learners from Asia who were studying at university." Perhaps we want to omit "from Asia who were" to save space. So we write: "The film focused on three English learners...studying at university."The new sentence still makes sense, but the ellipsis mark shows thereader that something is missing. 14. According to Quirk and Greenbaum, the distinctions are unimportant for count nouns with specific reference to definite and indefinitepronouns.However, if the material quoted can be read as a completesentence, simply capitalize the first word of the material and leaveout the ellipsis marks:This principle is described by Quirk and Greenbaum:The distinctions for count nouns with specific reference to definiteand indefinite pronouns remain unimportant. 15. Rule 5When a lengthy quotation begins with a complete sentence and ends witha complete sentence, do not use an ellipsis at either the end or thebeginning of the quotation unless it is, for some reason, important toemphasize that some language has been omitted.**from The Gregg Reference Manual by William A. Sabin. 9th Edition. McGraw-Hill: New York. 2001. Used with the consent of Glencoe/McGraw-Hill. p. 75. 16. Rule 6The ellipsis should be regarded as one unit and should not be broken at theend of a line. Toward that end, it is useful to know the code that will createan unbroken and unbreakable ellipsis for you on the word-processingprogram you are using. On most machines, its a simple matter of holdingdown the option key and hitting the semicolon, but this varies fromprogram 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." 17. Rule 7The MLA Handbook recommends using square brackets on either sideof the ellipsis points to distinguish between an ellipsis that youveadded and the ellipses that might have been in the original text. Such abracketed ellipsis in a quotation would look like this: "Bohr [] used the analogy of parallel stairways []" (Smith 55).The plural of ellipsis is ellipses (handy to remember when youreplaying Scrabble), but the points themselves (the dots that make upthe ellipsis) are called ellipsis points or ellipsis marks 18. Rule 8 avoid ellipsesLike dashes, parentheses and slashes, they make a page ugly. It is best notto hack up sentences you are quoting. Try rephrasing or dividing onequotation into two:UGLY: Jane compares the night sky to "a blue sea [. . .] and [. . .] fathomlessdepth" (108).BETTER: Jane compares the night sky to a "blue sea" and a "fathomlessdepth" (108).Avoid the ellipsis in narrative writing too; it easily sounds like a clich:TRITE: She gasped, "Can it really be . . . ? I never dreamed. . . ." Review 19. Lets Reviewomissions from quotations. An ellipsis (the plural, ellipses, rhymes withGypsies) marks omissions from a quotation. College style manuals nowrecommend using brackets around an ellipsis in a quotation, to make it clearthat the ellipsis is not in the original text you are quoting. Ellipses andbrackets make your page ugly; use them only when there is no betteralternative.a. One space goes before and after each period:WRONG: "Times [...] chariot."WRONG: "Times. . .chariot."RIGHT: "Times [. . .] chariot." 20. b. Never divide an ellipsis between lines. All the periods should either endone line or begin the next line.c. Use ellipses only to omit the middle of a sentence, not the beginning orend:Mocking the romantic exaggerations of lovers, Rosalind scoffs, "Men havedied from time to time, [. . .] but not for love" (4.1.101-02).d. No ellipsis is needed to quote a short, uninterrupted phrase:WRONG: Mrs. Turpin is shocked when the girl calls her an "[. . .] old warthog [. . .]" (372).RIGHT: Mrs. Turpin is shocked when the girl calls her an "old wart hog"(372). 21. e. If you omit the end of a sentence but continue your quotation,use four periods, with no space before the first. Otherwise youneed no ellipsis if you omit the start or end of a sentence:Johnson satirizes chronic idlers: "Some are always in a state ofpreparation[. . . .] These are certainly under the secret power ofIdleness" (191).f. In extracted quotations from poetry, an entire line of spacedperiods is used to mark the omission of

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