Ellipses are written as three dots in a row (…). In reported speech, they are used to either provide a slight pause or to show that the speaker’s words are trailing off. In quoted material, ellipses have a different function: to indicate that words (or even multiple sentences) have been left out from the original material.
To avoid any errors in your writing, here is how to use ellipses correctly:
When writing dialogue, you can use ellipses to show that a character’s speech trails off towards the end:
“Can you hear that?” I whispered. “Listen …”
“I found it,” I said, waving my hand. “Over here …”
“Really?” she frowned. “I’m not sure …”
Notice that you should always keep a space between an ellipsis and the word or words on either side of it (although not between an ellipsis and a quotation mark):
“Wait … is that true?”
* “Wait…is that true?”
In quotes, ellipses show that a word (or whole sentences) have been left out from the original material. Let’s use the following sentence as an example:
Sharks are fearsome predators and many people are scared of them, although marine biologists often say that they don’t deserve their bad reputation.
If we wanted to quote this sentence but leave out a part that isn’t relevant to us, we could use an ellipsis like this:
“Sharks are fearsome predators … although marine biologists often say that they don’t deserve their bad reputation.”
Now the reader can see that our quote is missing words from the original material (in this case, “and many people are scared of them”).
In academic writing, some style guides ask writers to follow an ellipsis with a period if the omitted words are at the end of a sentence. However, this is much less common in general publishing, where you can safely stick to three dots and no period in such cases.
If you leave out words from the very beginning or end of a quote, you don’t need to use an ellipsis: simply start or end the quote directly:
Although I’ve always had a fear of sharks, I’ve often heard “that they don’t deserve their bad reputation.”
It would be unnecessary to use ellipses in the following ways:
* Although I’ve always had a fear of sharks, I’ve often heard “… that they don’t deserve their bad reputation.”
* “Sharks are fearsome predators …” and I’ve always been scared of them.
In patterns like these, it is very clear that only part of the original material is being quoted, so adding an ellipsis at the beginning or end of the quote would be redundant. Unless the context requires it, rather avoid this in your writing.
For more help with your grammar, check out these fantastic books: