Ellipses are punctuation marks that are useful in academic writing, where there is sometimes a need to quote sources at length. This is because ellipses indicate when something has been left out from a quote, helping you to express yourself succinctly.
Despite this important role, many people are unsure about how and when to use ellipses. As such, we’ve prepared this guide on how to quote elliptically.
Overview: What Is an Ellipsis?
As mentioned above, an ellipsis is a punctuation mark indicating an omission from a quotation, typically presented as a set of three periods ( … ). An ellipsis can thus be used to emphasize important points when quoting lengthy passages by omitting excess detail:
The popularity of the owl … stems from its design for coping with, and hunting in, the darkness. Enormous frontal eyes stare out from cheek-like facial discs, and they have … highly developed ears: Both are part of the owl’s equipment for homing in on elusive and alert prey.
In the above passage, additional details have been removed to focus on two features (“enormous frontal eyes” and “highly developed ears”). It is important, however, that the amended text still makes a complete sentence, so read it back to yourself after making any omissions.
The most common version of an ellipsis is the one used in the above passage (i.e., three dots with a space before and after the ellipsis). However, conventions differ depending on the style guide used, so remember to check whether your school specifies a style.
Find this useful?
Subscribe to our newsletter and get writing tips from our editors straight to your inbox.
Variations you may see include:
Three dots with no spaces on either side (e.g., “There is something…missing here.”)
Three dots with spaces between them (e.g., “There is something . . . missing here.”)
Three dots enclosed within square brackets (e.g., “There is something […] missing here.”)
Usually, as long as you use a clear and consistent style, the type of ellipses you use will not be a major issue.
You may also see ellipses in less formal writing, where they are often used… wait for it… to indicate a dramatic or comic pause! In these cases there will sometimes be no space before the ellipsis. However, there is usually a space afterwards to indicate the end of the pause.
Alternatively, if used at the end of a sentence, an ellipsis can indicate a thought or utterance trailing away to nothing without a satisfying…