The Elusive Ellipsis

An ellipsis is also known as “dot dot dot.” It is not to be confused with the word “eclipse” which occurs when two heavenly bodies line up in the sky, such as a lunar eclipse. It should also not be confused with an ellipse, which is an oval geometric shape.

The ellipsis consists of three dots (or periods) in a row — not two, not four — just three. When using an ellipsis, there must be a space before or after it; it is never jammed up against the last (or first) letter next to it.

There are three official uses for the ellipsis and one unofficial use.

1) An ellipsis indicates missing information or excluded words in a quote.
Some people ramble on and on. If you need to quote them, you can shorten a rambling sentence by removing extraneous words. Extraneous words are simply words that are not necessary to convey the information. This use is very common in journalism. Often, reporters just don’t have the space to print an entire quote, but are required to accurately depict what was said. Anyone who has had to quote a politician should be very familiar with the use of the ellipsis.

“The best way to begin saving money, whether you are rich or poor, is to not spend it.”
can be shortened with an ellipsis like this:
“The best way to begin saving money … is not to spend it.”

Please note that there is a space after the word money and before the word is. You can also use an ellipsis in this manner at the beginning or end of a sentence.

“Whether you are rich or poor, the best way to begin saving money is to not spend it.”
can be shortened to read:
“… The best way to begin saving money is not to spend it.”

In the above case, it seems to be a matter of preference whether the word “the” is capitalized after the ellipsis. I have seen grammar guides that differ on this point.

2) An ellipsis indicates a (fairly long) pause in a sentence. It may indicate a moment of thought which interrupts speech.

That thing across the trunk of a car … what’s it called?
He is just so darn … frustrating.
I think he’s about to turn … twenty-four this year.

3) An ellipsis indicates that a thought has trailed off.
There are lots of people in the world who fail to finish their sentences, but you know what they are going to say or what they are thinking without hearing those missing words.

He’s so smart. If only he would …
She didn’t tell me where she was going, but she might be …
How did you ever …

The Unofficial Use of the Ellipsis
Those are the three official uses of the ellipsis. A fourth, unofficial use, however, is growing in popularity. More and more often, the ellipsis is being used to allude to something suggestive. This use was made famous in the movie musical Mamma Mia!

First, he held my hand, then we started kissing, then we …

This use of the ellipsis allows the writer to leave something to the reader’s imagination. Not only has the written ellipsis become popular in writing, it has also become popular in speech.

“First, he held my hand, then we started kissing, then we, dot dot dot!”

It just wouldn’t have the same effect to say, “… we kissed and then he ellipsis.”

He what?!?