What Are Ellipses ( … ) And How Do You Use Them?

Sometimes, you find yourself … and you can’t … it is hard to … you don’t know the right words. The ellipsis is the perfect punctuation mark to use to express this difficulty in informal writing. But that’s not the only way we can use an ellipsis. The ellipsis is a handy punctuation mark to use in fiction to create dramatic pauses or to indicate a character starting to ramble on and on and on … If that isn’t all, the ellipsis has a place in formal writing, too. The ellipsis is so amazing that it can solve all of life’s problems! … OK, maybe not, but you’ll see that this little punctuation mark can still do a lot of cool stuff.

What is an ellipsis?

An ellipsis (plural ellipses) is a mark composed of three dots ( … ). Depending on the style guide or grammar resource, the three dots may or may not have spaces between them. In formal writing, the ellipsis is typically only used to indicate omissions, usually in quotations. In informal writing and fiction writing, the ellipsis is often used to indicate hesitation, a long pause, or a sentence trailing off.

✏️ Examples of an ellipsis in a sentence

The following sentences give examples of how we typically use an ellipsis. The first two sentences would be acceptable in formal writing while the latter two sentences would more likely appear in informal or fiction writing.

  • The law said that “no person can … release a wild animal in a crowded supermarket.”
  • Abraham Lincoln once said, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth … a new nation … dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
  • “I was … we were … they didn’t … Look, it’s complicated, okay?”
  • I would never betray a friend for a crate of puppies. A crate of puppies and kittens, though …

When do you use an ellipsis?

There are a few different instances that call for an ellipsis. In general, there is only one accepted use for an ellipsis in formal writing, but the ellipsis has a few additional uses in informal and fiction writing.


Typically, the only accepted use of an ellipsis in formal writing is to indicate the omission of information. Most of the time, ellipses are used to shorten quotations by alerting a reader that some text was omitted from the original quote or source.

For example, an original source might say this:

  • Gorillas are really smart animals. They form strong family bonds in the wild. Some captive gorillas, such as Koko, have even been taught to use sign language.

Another writer may quote this source like so:

  • I was researching gorillas and I found a passage that said, ”Gorillas are really smart animals … Some captive gorillas … have been taught to use sign language.” That’s really cool!

The writer has used ellipses to indicate that they have omitted parts of the original source. Importantly, the writer did not change the meaning of what the original quote said; they simply omitted words and sentences they didn’t think were relevant.

Visit this useful review of 26 most common typographical symbols and punctuation marks.

Informal uses

In informal writing, it is still fine to use ellipses to indicate omissions. However, ellipses have a few additional common uses in informal and fiction writing.


An ellipsis or multiple ellipses are used when a speaker is hesitating or struggling to find the right words to say. For example,

  • The chancellor sweated profusely and stammered, “Your highness, … I wasn’t … I didn’t mean to imply that … I would never question your wisdom.”

Pauses or trailing sentences

An ellipsis may be used at the end of a sentence to express that a person is pausing dramatically, started to mumble, or their sentence trailed off. For example,

  • The old huntress looked at me and said, “Lots of people think they can hunt werewolves. When they finally find one …” She never finished that sentence, but she didn’t need to.

Informally, people may also begin a sentence with an ellipsis to show a pause or hesitation. There are many reasons why a person might do this, such as expressing confusion or disbelief. For example,

  • Person A: So, anyway, I adopted 101 Dalmatians this morning.
  • Person B: …What? Why?

How to use an ellipsis

When it comes to using ellipses, there are two important things to remember.

Follow your style guide

The rules surrounding using ellipses are not universal. Grammar resources and style guides frequently have different rules and conventions when it comes to the proper usage of ellipses. For example, one style guide may require a space between each dot of an ellipsis while another may require none. One style guide might require a space before and after an ellipsis, another style guide may require no spaces, and yet another style guide may only require a space before/after an ellipsis. The rules surrounding capitalization, spacing, and using an ellipsis with other punctuation marks will be different depending on which style guide you use.

In general, the best practice is to follow whatever your preferred style guide or grammar resource says and then stay consistent throughout your writing.

Do not change the meaning of the original source when using an ellipsis in quotations

In any writing, formal or informal, it is widely considered unacceptable and unethical to alter the meaning of an original source using ellipses. For example,

  • Original source: The ambassador said, without hesitation or mincing of words, that he was disgusted by the rumors saying he supported the invasion.
  • Acceptable use of an ellipsis: The ambassador said … that he was disgusted by the rumors saying he supported the invasion.
  • Unacceptable use of an ellipsis: The ambassador said, without hesitation or mincing of words, that … he supported the invasion.

Now you are ready to take this quiz on ellipses!

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