All … about … ellipses ………..

30 Oct

I am inherently bad at guessing what kids are supposed to be dressed as for Halloween.

I think it’s the pressure.  Whenever I open the door and see a child holding out a candy bucket or pillowcase, I feel like it is my duty to validate the child and the child’s parents by immediately knowing–and naming–what the costume is supposed to be.

But the pressure gets to me.

If I open my door and see a child wrapped head to toe in toilet paper, the word “mummy” is suddenly gone from my vocabulary, and I’m left hemming and hawing.

“Ah, yes.  I see you’re . . . a . . . burn victim?”

Superman shows up at my door.

” . . . Primary color lover pentagon man?”

Then there are some costumes for which, try as I might, I just can’t conjure up a guess.

“You’re . . . a . . .”

And I leave it.  The tiny little cretin stares up at me, begging me with his Puss in Boots eyes to name his costume, not appreciating that by simply saying, “You’re . . . a . . . ” I’ve taught him a valuable lesson in existentialist philosophy!  He is the one responsible for giving his costume meaning! What is more true a concept than the very statement, “You’re . . . a . . . ” when it is the subjective individual who captains his own destiny?!

And so a lot of kids don’t come to my door.  Also because I now live on the third floor of an apartment building.  Also because I give out walnuts and brochures about dental safety.

One thing that all of those responses have in common, though, besides their blazing ignorance, is the use of the ellipsis.  Ellipsis (plural: ellipses) is the official name for the “. . . ” punctuation mark.  I know most of you are familiar with the concept of ellipses, because I’ve received emails from you.  Let’s have a list with some facts and ground rules for ellipses.

1. In the Halloween example sentences above, I used ellipses for what is probably their most common use in casual writing: to denote a pause or a trailing off.  This is an actual purpose of the ellipses, and in the right context (correspondence, dialogue, creative writing) it is absolutely acceptable in moderation.  Ending a sentence (of dialogue or otherwise) with an ellipsis can denote a number of things: a trailing off, a sense of uncertainty, a sense of doom, etc.

2. Don’t make your ellipsis do all the heavy lifting, though! As you can see above, ending or starting a sentence with an ellipsis (again, using it to denote a certain mood is not appropriate for formal or research papers) can mean a number of things, and it could be the cause for some major miscommunication.  For example: if you send me a text message that ends with an ellipsis, I categorically assume that you are mad at me.  To me, the ellipsis makes everything either angry, cryptic, or creepy.  Look:

I’m wearing your dress!

vs.

I’m wearing your dress . . . 

If I received the first message, I would assume it was from a friend who was excited to be wearing my dress.  If I received the second message, I would assume that Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs has stolen a friend’s phone and my life was about to get very, very dark.

You might not read ellipses like this, but that’s exactly the point: everyone interprets them differently.  That’s why you need to be careful when using them in any kind of correspondence.

3. Use ellipses in moderation.  They do not replace standard punctuation marks.  Your emails should not be strung together by a series of ellipses.  You need some definite starting and ending points.

4. Ellipses are also used to denote words, phrases, lines, or paragraphs that have been omitted from quoted material.  You can do this to save space or eliminate words or phrases that are unnecessary for your purposes.  However, you may not use an ellipses to change the author’s meaning.

5. Different style books have different rules for ellipses spacing.  In general, most require that there should be one space before the first ellipsis mark, one space between each mark, and one space at the end.  You type it like this: space period space period space period space.  It looks like this: “Different style books have . . . rules for ellipses spacing.”

6. Most of the time, you should not use ellipses at the beginning of a quotation to indicate the omission of material.

Incorrect: Riane stated that most style books ” . . . require that there should be one space before the first ellipsis mark . . . .”

Correct: Riane stated that most style books “require that there should be one space before the first ellipsis mark . . . .”

The only time that you should use an ellipsis at the beginning of your sentence is if it is not clear that that you’ve omitted information from the quote’s beginning.

7. You may have noticed that I used four dots at the end of that last sentence.  This is correct, and it is the only time you should use more or less than three dots.  When an ellipsis ends a sentence (as it does above), you need three dots for the ellipsis, and one dot as the period.

The same goes for combining a fully quoted sentence with a partially quoted sentence.  In that situation, place a period at the end of the fully quoted sentence, and then follow it with the space dot space dot space dot rule.  There will still be four dots, but the first dot comes right after the last letter, like a normal period.  Spaces come afterwards.  I’ll use text from #6 as my example.

Incorrect:

“You may have noticed that I used four dots at the end of that last sentence . . . It is the only time you should use more or less than three dots.”  (Problem: Only 3 dots.)

Incorrect Again:

“You may have noticed that I used four dots at the end of that last sentence . . . . It is the only time you should use more or less than three dots.” (Problem: 4 dots, but all evenly spaced.)

Correct:

“You may have noticed that I used four dots at the end of that last sentence. . . . It is the only time you should use more or less than three dots.” (Correct! The first dot comes right after the last word, and the rest are spaced.)

8. Those scenarios are the only exceptions to the three dot rule! Never two, never five, never a line like this …………… even if you’re just writing an email.  That doesn’t look like punctuation.  That looks like mouse droppings.

9. So Happy Halloween, everybody. I hope you get everything you deserve . . . .

See?! That’s creepy, isn’t it?

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3 Responses to “All … about … ellipses ………..”

  1. Booknotized (Anna) November 1, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

    It’s the spacing that gets to me. At work, the style is with spaces. But, most of the programs on our computers automatically replace them with non-spaced versions. It’s a proofreading nightmare!!

    . . . 🙂

    • rianeisgrammarsaurusrex November 1, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

      I agree! And I actually like the look of the pre-programmed non-spaced versions. Alas.

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  1. Etceterra « Twixterite's Blog - February 7, 2012

    […] All … about … ellipses ……….. (grammarsaurusrex.wordpress.com) Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Filed under: Uncategorized   |  Leave a Comment Tags: Arts, Da Vinci Code, Dash, Ellipsis, Emily Dickinson, Online Writing, Poetry, Texas […]

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