re: How Many Dots for Ellipses?

in Formatting/Punctuation/Grammar by

Dear Editor…

I use ellipses a lot in my current manuscript. But how do I know when to use three dots and when to use four? And someone told me I’m spacing them incorrectly. Huh?

Sincerely,

Seeing Spots in San Diego

Dear Seeing Spots in San Diego…

Ellipses are just tiny blots of ink, I know, but bobbling them distracts editors and who wants that? Here’s the skinny:

Use THREE dots, tapping your space bar before and after each one, to indicate an omission within a sentence, to join sentence fragments, or to indicate an intentional trailing off of a complete sentence. Hence:

  • “It’s too bad this snooze inducer isn’t a hilarious comedy.” becomes “It’s . . . a hilarious comedy.”
  • “The dog skidded around the corner, spun wildly in circles, then crashed into a pile of clothes.” becomes “The dog skidded . . . spun wildly . . . then crashed into a pile of clothes.”
  • “If I had my way . . . ,” he mumbled.

Use FOUR dots, with the first dot smashed up against the letter preceding it, when a complete sentence precedes your ellipses: “My choice was agonizing. . . . Yes. I’d do it. I’d do it!”

For the full scoop on ellipses, read the Chicago Manual of Style, starting at 11-51. And, hey, about the ellipses spacing in DearEditor.com’s salutation, ignore it. It was a stylistic choice in the web design. Really, I swear. . . .

Happy writing!

Sincerely,

The Editor

8 Comments

  1. Also, when trailing off dialogue be sure to hit ALT+0133 to get the proper punctuation character symbol for an ellipsis (don’t just type three periods).

    ALT+0133 = …
    three periods = …

    • Actually, Shawna, for ellipses in manuscripts you’ll be turning in to publishers, you do want the spacing created by hitting the period key three times with a space in between each one. Your clever shortcut gives you the ellipses with dots all smashed up next to each other, which is useful in other situations. One reason this spacing is standard in-house is that it makes things easier for designers as they design the text layouts on their computers. That said, if you don’t get the proper spacing between the dots in your ellipses, the world won’t come to a screeching halt; editorial assistants will clean that up for you when they transmit the manuscript to the designer, or the designer may do it. This just saves everyone a step right from the beginning.

      • I have a question, this whole four-dot, three-dot ellipses principle, does this only stand in works? Like say I was just speaking to someone, on chat or something, do you use it there, too? Example: “Hello, friend . . .” or “Hello, friend…”
        Or would that be weird? Is it only supposed to be used in literature?
        (Also, is using just “…” ever correct? If so, where?)

        • Sorry for my delay in responding, Lasertown – your question came in while DearEditor.com was on holiday hiatus. No one’s likely to whip you with a wet noodle if you just use three ellipses instead of four (or vice versa) in an email to a pal, but if it’s proper correspondence you should indicate the end of a full sentence with a period before adding the three ellipses points. I wouldn’t worry about the spacing between the dots in an email, though, as the big spacing can appear distracting. The ultimate purpose of this spacing in a manuscript is to allow the book’s interior designer to assign his or her preferred distance between the dots for that particular design. Many houses provide their authors will style guides to help them format the manuscript in the most efficient manner for all involved in the book’s production. If you’re self-publishing, your author services company will provide you with its formatting rules for ellipses and other punctuation and spacing issues.

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