One thing I see frequently when I’m copy-editing (to be honest, I see it in almost every book I edit) is the confusion about how to use ellipses. (Before I go on, let me say that ellipsis is the singular form and ellipses is the plural).
Sometimes in our writing, we want to show that the speaker is hesitating. Sometimes we want to show that some words were left out on purpose. Sometimes we want to show that a person is just drifting off and stops speaking before finishing his sentence.
All of these things can be shown using ellipses. But how many dots should we use? If more words are left out, should we use more dots? If the hesitation is longer, do we use more dots?
The use of ellipses can be quite involved, but for writing fiction or for writing informally, here is a method that is fairly simple to learn and to remember.
Basically it is a three-dot method, although sometimes you may see four dots used. The fourth dot means that one of them is a period marking the end of the sentence.
Robert Bringhurst in Elements of Typographic Style, suggests that normally an ellipsis should be spaced fore-and-aft to separate it from the text, but when it combines with other punctuation, the leading space disappears and the other punctuation follows. He provides the following examples:
|i … j||k….||l…, l||l, … l||m…?||n…!|
I find these examples very helpful when I’m writing and want to show that something is missing. The examples also help me to keep my punctuation correct and stop me from going wild with more than four dots…………..
Have you seen this done? Have you done it yourself? Well, now you can do it right and quite simply without wondering what you should do.
Some examples for each of the above cases:
What kind of fruit do I like? Er … let me think….
I like bananas, oranges, and plums…, but most of all, … yes, I think I like papayas.
Do you like papayas best, or is there something else you prefer, like…? I know, it’s that one that starts with m…! Mangos!
Often, if we try, we can work around the use of ellipses, but if you really need them, try using the little chart above as a guide.
But don’t let them make you go dotty.
If you need a copy-editor, check out my website and click on the tab for Copy-editing.