Introduction to Ellipsis

An ellipsis is a commonly used punctuation mark in written English. It consists of three consecutive full stops (…). It's used to indicate the omission of words in a text or the intentional leaving out of a part of a sentence. It can also be used to mark silent pauses or to show hesitation. But like every punctuation mark in English, there are rules and guidelines that govern its usage. This tutorial covers everything you need to know about the ellipsis, including its types, rules that govern its use, and illustrated examples.

Types of Ellipsis

There are two main types of ellipsis that you should understand:

  • Grammatical Ellipsis: This type is usually used in grammatically complete sentences where the omitted words can be understood from the context.
  • Rhetorical Ellipsis: This type refers to sentences where the writer intentionally leaves something out, often to create a pause for thought, or to leave the sentence open to interpretation.
  • Ellipsis Grammar Rules

    Rule #1: Use Ellipsis to Show Omission

    When words are omitted from a quote, an ellipsis is used. It’s an effective means to shorten lengthy quotes without changing the overall meaning. For example:

    Original quote: "She ran into the room, grabbed her bag, and left."

    With ellipsis: "She ran into the room… and left."

    Rule #2: Use Ellipsis to Show Hesitation or Trailing Thoughts

    Ellipses can be used in creative writing and informal contexts to indicate a heart-rending pause or an incomplete thought. For example:

    "If only she knew…"

    Rule #3: Use Ellipsis in Dialogue

    In dialogue writing, if a speaker’s speech trails off, use an ellipsis. It gives the reader an authentic experience by showing the speaker’s hesitation, pause, or uncertainty. For example:

    “I thought he was…never mind, it’s not important.”

    Rule #4: Use of Spaces with Ellipsis

    In general, treat an ellipsis as a three-letter word composed of three full stops. At a minimum, there should be a space on both sides of the ellipsis. For example:

    Correct: "I don't know … maybe you're right."

    Incorrect: "I don't know…maybe you're right."

    Rule #5: Ellipsis at the End of a Sentence

    When an ellipsis is used at the end of a sentence, it can be followed by a period, question mark, or exclamation point. However, if the sentence ends without any punctuation, the ellipsis serves as the final punctuation. For example:

    “I can’t believe he…”

    Final Thoughts on Ellipses

    While the use of ellipsis strictly depends on the rules mentioned above, it is also important not to overuse it. Overuse of ellipsis can make the text hard to follow or seem disjointed. Remember that the ultimate goal of punctuation is to help the reader understand the writer’s intended meaning.


    To practice your understanding of ellipsis, try these exercises:

  • Find a lengthy quote and use ellipsis to make it concise.
  • Write a piece of dialogue and use an ellipsis to express hesitation or pause.
  • Conclusion

    Using ellipsis correctly in English not only helps make your writing concise and direct but also enables you to add a touch of drama or emphasis. With the guide above, you should be well-equipped to use ellipsis appropriately in your writing.

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