Ellipsis 
Rules and Examples


Punctuation marksThe ellipsis (…) is a form of punctuation used in written English language.

Check out our new series of illustrated workbooks:
Stories and Exercises to Practice the Perfect Tenses

Stories and Exercises to Practice the Progressive Tenses


Note:   
  • Ellipsis is the singular form of the word, meaning one.
  • Ellipses is the plural form of the word, meaning more than one ellipsis.
The ellipsis is also known to some as dot-dot-dot because it consists of three periods, or dots, in a row.

The first part of this lesson will focus on when to use ellipses in writing.

The second part of this lesson will describe how to create ellipses on a word processor.

When to use ellipses

1. Use an ellipsis to show an omission, or leaving out, of a word or words in a quote. Use ellipses to shorten the quote without changing the meaning.

For example:
  • "After school I went to her house, which was a few blocks away, and then came home."
Shorten the quote by replacing a few words with an ellipsis. Remember, the meaning of the quote should not change.
  • "After school I went to her house … and then came home."
We removed the words "which was a few blocks away" and replaced them with an ellipsis without changing the meaning of the original quote.

2. Use an ellipsis to show a pause in a thought or to create suspense. (Suspense is when a reader is excited to know what is going to happen next.)

Examples:   
  • She opened the door . . . and saw . . . a cake!
  • I was thinking . . . maybe we should call home.
This use of ellipses is very common in informal (friendly) letters and emails.

3. Use an ellipsis to show a break, or trailing off, of a thought.

Examples:   
  • I know I saw my keys somewhere . . .
  • "I'm not sure what to do . . .," he said.
  • I never thought . . .     

How to make an ellipsis

An ellipsis is made of three dots called ellipsis points. Ellipses are exactly three dots, not two or four.

1) On a word processor, type three periods with spaces in between.

period-space-period-space-period-space

This type of ellipsis is usually used to show a pause or a trailing thought as in the examples in rules 2 and 3 above.

Examples:   
  • She opened the door . . . and saw . . . a cake!
  • I was thinking . . . maybe we should call home.
Examples:   
  • I know I saw my keys somewhere . . .
  • I never thought . . .
  • "I'm not sure what to do . . .," he said.

2) Many word processing programs will automatically create ellipses if you type three periods in a row. Just type a space, three periods, and a second space and move on to the next word. The ellipsis will look smaller than three spaced out periods.

Correct: We went to the city … and arrived home after midnight.

The word processing program automatically created an ellipsis when I
typed three periods without spaces in between.

3) If the ellipsis is in the place of a word or part of a sentence, leave a space on each side of the ellipsis.

For example:   
  • (Without an ellipsis)
    We went to the city, shopped, ate lunch and arrived home after midnight.
  • (With an ellipsis, removing the words "shopped, ate lunch")
    We went to the city … and arrived home after midnight.
4) If the ellipsis is used to replace words at the end of a sentence, it should be followed by a period (.), question mark (?) or exclamation point (!) to end the sentence.

4. Use an ellipsis with a period to shorten a quote.

If the ellipsis is followed by a period, then you will have 4 dots.

For example:
  • She said, "I like apples, oranges and bananas because they are all fruits."
  • She said, "I like apples, oranges and bananas … ."
5. Use an ellipsis with a question mark after a trailing thought.

Examples:
  • Why would he do that . . . ?
  • Where is she . . . ?
6. Use an ellipsis with an exclamation point to show excitement after a pause.

Examples:
  • Wow . . .!
  • I cannot believe you did that . . .!
In summary, the ellipsis is a form of punctuation used in writing the English language. It can be used to show an omission, to show a pause or create suspense, or to show a break in a thought. An ellipsis is made by using three periods in a row.

These were the uses of the ellipsis. Now that you know them, it is time to practice! Read and do exercises.

Get Vocabulary, Grammar and Teaching Tips, Site Updates and Special Offers Directly to Your Mailbox

Join now and get a special bonus:

First 2 chapters of the English Short Stories Book and Workbook.

Are you a teacher or a student?

* We respect your email privacy and you can unsubscribe at any time.