Ellipses are different from dashes, but they share enough to need some clarification.
In dialogue, an ellipsis falters in confusion or creates a pause. The em dash interrupts abruptly.
Ellipses (singular = ellipsis)
MS Word and similar word processors will create an ellipsis when three consecutive periods (dots) are typed.
The Chicago Manual of Style prefers hard (nonbreaking) spaces (Ctrl+Shift+Spacebar for Windows, Option+Spacebar for Mac) between the three dots. The Associated Press inserts no spaces between the dots, which is what your word processor will probably do.
Within a sentence, both AP and CMOS prefer a space before and after the ellipsis, treating it and punctuating it as though it were the word(s) omitted.
Between sentences, if the end of the sentence was omitted, then a period before the three dots. If the beginning of a following sentence was omitted, then a period after the preceding three dots.
According to the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), an ellipsis indicates someone who is in a less-than-logical state of mind. They may be uncertain or frightened in an emergency or high-stress situation. They may hesitate or stammer, or their words may just trail off.
However, writers often use ellipses to indicate a pause in what is being said, which may be done for emphasis or hesitation.
If a phrase would require a comma, the comma goes before the ellipsis, just as it would if the missing word were said.
If the sentence is complete, a separate ending mark goes after the ellipsis, which may make four periods in a row.
If the word is cut off, then the ellipsis attaches to the end of the word with no space between. Treat it as the rest of the word.
- “I thought I would … might … perha… I could … maybe you would let me …”
- (The thought continues throughout.)
- (Space before and after the three consecutive dots [AP style], except at the end)
- (The word “perhaps” is cut off before it is finished, so the ellipsis has no space before it.)
- (No punctuation at the end because the thought is not complete)
- “Well, maybe … if you would finish your sentence, …
- (Again, the same thought continues through the sentence.)
- (Space before and after, but no space needed when the ellipsis ends the sentence)
- (No punctuation at the end of the incomplete thought)
- “Could I have an … increase in my allowance? … You know the cost of living? … It just keeps going up! … Maybe ten percent or …”
- (Normal punctuation for questions or exclamations when they are complete sentences.)
- (Ellipses for hesitation between sentences)
It is important to keep the meaning of the quotation intact.
An ellipsis is not needed when the quotation begins mid-sentence. However, putting a capital letter in brackets may be required, depending upon for formality of the writing.
Short quotations may be included in the sentence/paragraph. Longer quotations should be indented in their own paragraph. The introduction may end with a period or a colon, depending on the context.
The amount of indentation is usually what would be for a first-line indent. Either both sides or only the left side may be indented.
Example from Hon. Edward Everett‘s two-hour speech, “The Battles of Gettysburg”:
Options for spacing in an incomplete sentence (no ending mark):
- space before and after each ellipsis
- (They … want … to …”)
- space before and and after and space between each dot (CMOS)
- (“They . . . want . . . to . . .”)
- only a space after each ellipsis
- (“They… want… to…”)
Options for spacing an ellipsis in a completed sentence requiring an ending punctuation mark:
- space before and after each ellipsis, with a space before the ending mark
- (“They want to … eat an elephant … .”)
- (“Do they want to … eat an elephant … ?”)
- space before and after, space between each dot, and a space before the ending mark (CMOS)
- (“They want to . . . eat an elephant . . . .”)
- (“Do they want to . . . eat an elephant . . . ?”)
- only a space after each ellipsis, followed by the appropriate punctuation mark.
- (“They want to… eat an elephant… .”)
- (“Do they want to… eat an elephant… ?”)
Creating an ellipsis:
Word processors following the MS Word system will create the ellipsis for you if you type three periods in a row with no spaces between.
Another option is to use the Insert feature for special characters.
The EM Dash
EM Dash is generally not separated from the word in front or behind by a space, although the AP Stylebook for journalists inserts spaces.
An em dash shows when a conversation, thought, or sentence structure is interrupted or trails off. The source of the interruption may be internal (a self-interruption), by the action of another, or by an external event.
- “I didn’t mean—or maybe I did.”
- “I didn’t mean—” She stopped. He wasn’t listening.
- “How can anyone—never mind, we’ll figure it out.”
- “How can anyone—” He shot her a silencing look.
- (Interruption by an action of another)
- “I didn’t mean—”
- “Then why did you say what you said?”
- (Interruption by another)
- “How can anyone—”
- “Don’t ask. It doesn’t matter.”
- (Interruption by another)
- “I didn’t mean—”
- The chair in which she was sitting collapsed.
- (Interruption caused by her chair collapsing)
- “I didn’t mean—” Her hiccup startled them both.
- (Interruption caused by her hiccup)
To create an em dash in MS Word or processors that follow the same procedures, type the word before, two hyphens, and the word after.
As soon as a space appears after the word after, the two hyphens will meld together into one em dash.
- Step 1: Type a word.
- Step 2: Type two hyphens one after the other.
- Step 3: Type the next word.
- Step 4: Now type the space and keep typing.
- something—who knows what
- Unfortunately, WordPress does not follow MS Word, so create an em dash in Word, copy it, and paste it into your blog.
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