Ellipsis

Sometimes when you’re quoting someone else you may not want to quote a whole sentence or paragraph. That’s when you will want to call on the ellipsis. (The word ellipsis comes from the Greek word meaning “to leave out.”)

The form

First a note about the form. The ellipsis consists of three dots with or without spaces between them:

    In the beginning God created … the earth.
    In the beginning God created . . . the earth.

Either way, there’s always a space before the first dot and after the last dot. So whichever way you choose (and make sure you stick with your choice throughout your document—if there’s one thing editors hate, it’s inconsistency!), don’t do this:

    In the beginning God created…the earth.
    In the beginning God created. . .the earth.

To insert an ellipsis in your document, use the shortcut Ctr+. (hold down the Control key and type a period).

We’ll use the following two paragraphs as our original to work with today*:

    A great way in which to do this on a consistent basis is to surround yourself with like-minded people who are already well down the pathway you have chosen to take. The more of these positive and supportive people you have in your life, the faster you’ll be able to proceed towards your dreams. I call these people dream-supporters.

    Dream-stealers do their best to steal your energy and your confidence by distracting you with reasons why not to do something, while dream-supporters conspire to help you make it happen.

Different methods exist for using the ellipsis. Here I will discuss what is known as the three-or-four-dot method.

The rules

1) Use three dots when the ellipsis occurs in the middle of a sentence:

    A great way … is to surround yourself with like-minded people who are already well down the pathway you have chosen to take.

Here the ellipsis indicates that part of the sentence has been omitted.

2) Use four dots when you omit an entire sentence or more than one sentence. In this case, the first dot is actually a period and is followed by a space.

    A great way in which to do this on a consistent basis is to surround yourself with like-minded people who are already well down the pathway you have chosen to take. … I call these people dream-supporters.

Here the period followed by the ellipsis indicates that an entire sentence has been omitted. Note that we keep the period before the ellipsis and that we still have a space before and after the ellipsis. If the first sentence had ended in a question mark or an exclamation mark, we would have used that mark instead of the period before the ellipsis.

3) Capitalize the first word after the ellipsis that begins a new sentence, even if it’s not capitalized in the original.

    A great way in which to do this on a consistent basis is to surround yourself with like-minded people who are already well down the pathway you have chosen to take. … Dream-supporters conspire to help you make it happen.

Note here that we have omitted the first part of the last sentence and so we have capitalized “dream-supporters.”

4) If you don’t quote the entire sentence before the ellipsis, you can cut it off earlier but be sure to still add a period (or whatever the sentence-final punctuation mark was).

    A great way in which to do this on a consistent basis is to surround yourself with like-minded people. … I call these people dream-supporters.

Here we have deleted the last part of the first sentence but we have simply moved up the period of the sentence and put it after “people.” Note that the part before the ellipsis is still a complete sentence.

5) If you omit the first part of a paragraph, use three dots and indent the paragraph. (Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out yet how to indent paragraphs on this blog.)

    … Surround yourself with like-minded people who are already well down the pathway you have chosen to take. The more of these positive and supportive people you have in your life, the faster you’ll be able to proceed towards your dreams. I call these people dream-supporters.

Note that we removed the first part of the sentence. We still have a complete sentence but since “surround” now begins the sentence we have capitalized it.

6) If you omit an entire paragraph, use four dots (a period followed by the ellipsis) at the end of the paragraph before the omission.

    A great way in which to do this on a consistent basis is to surround yourself with like-minded people who are already well down the pathway you have chosen to take. The more of these positive and supportive people you have in your life, the faster you’ll be able to proceed towards your dreams. I call these people dream-supporters. …

    By the end of this book, you’ll know the key action steps and turning points that these successful investors used to start living their dream.

Here the ellipsis indicates that one or more paragraphs have been omitted.

7) Do not use an ellipsis if you are omitting the first or last part of a quotation. This is especially relevant to Bible verses. Let’s say you’re quoting this verse:

    Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. (Matthew 6:13)

You could say that Jesus taught that “the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction” (Matthew 6:13). There is no need to use an ellipsis at the beginning or end of the quotation.

A final warning

Ellipsis is a means of indicating that you have omitted part of a quotation in order to focus on that part of the message you want to highlight. But be careful that you remain true to what the original author intended. For example, although the following quotation is taken word-for-word from the original, it manages to contradict what the author actually said.

    A great way in which to do this on a consistent basis is to surround yourself … down the pathway you have chosen to take … with reasons why not to do something.

If you’re an editor and have access to the original source, it may be a good idea to check and make sure the author has preserved the original meaning when using an ellipsis.

To your writing success!
Dirk

dirk_kievit@editors.ca
www.dirkkievit.org

For further uses of the ellipsis, see the Chicago Manual of Style (sections 11.51–79 in the 15th edition and 13.48–13.58 in the 16th edition).

(Image at top courtesy of Free Digital Photos. Please understand that I cannot vouch for the appropriateness of all images on that site.)

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*Quotation taken from Campbell, Don R. 2008. 51 Success Stories from Canadian Real Estate Investors. Mississauga, Ont: John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd. p. x.