Posted by: Jack Henry | April 5, 2022

Editor’s Corner: The Ellipsis

A few months ago, one of you wrote to me about an article in which “millennials” were accusing “boomers” (yes, those were the terms) of being haters because they text and use the ellipsis (…) so much. I couldn’t believe using that particular punctuation mark was considered “angry.” The writer’s millennial children told her that “It is offensive to use it at the end of a sentence, because it can be dismissive or passive/aggressive. But using it in the middle of a sentence…connecting thoughts, is just fine!”

Hmm. Well, that may be the current thought on the ellipsis, but I certainly don’t think people from that generation (or mine, or even the one after mine) are using ellipsis marks to be spiteful. We use it because, like the exclamation point, comma, and other punctuation, it serves a purpose.

The official job of the ellipsis is to signal a pause, some uncertainty, or an omission. At the end of a sentence, it can also indicate an unfinished thought. Perhaps some unfinished thoughts, like “My life would’ve been different if I had never given birth to you…” could be considered pretty darn horrible. I agree. But ending a text with an ellipsis isn’t inherently dismissive. “Maybe I’ll see you at Tony’s later…” just indicates that you might see your friend at Tony’s, but you might not.

From GrammarBook.com, I have a list of official uses for the ellipsis, and some examples.

1) To suggest faltering or fragmented speech accompanied by confusion, insecurity, distress, or uncertainty

"I…I…it’s just…I can’t believe you just said that," Bartholomew said. [KC – That is one ugly sentence.]

"The book…where is the book?" Donetta said.

If other punctuation for expression or emphasis is used within a fragment of the quoted material, the mark is kept before the ellipsis:

"The storm clouds…my goodness!…look!…there in the distance!" Ned said.

2) To conclude a quoted sentence that is deliberately and grammatically incomplete

Most Americans are familiar with Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech in which he begins multiple statements with ‘I have a dream…’

As shown in this example, when an ellipsis concludes a sentence in this context, it does not have another space or period after the mark.

If the fragment is not included as part of a sentence but rather as a prompt or a beginning, its fragmentary character does not need to be identified with ellipsis periods:

My goal is to memorize several of MLK’s statements starting with "I have a dream" before the end of the semester.

3) To show an omission regardless of whether it comes in the middle of a sentence or between sentences

If the omission is within the same sentence, we use only the three-period ellipsis. If the omission is within wider content, such as a paragraph, we include a period before the ellipsis to show the current statement with the omission has ended.

Original paragraph: Rosetta would like all of you to know before she retires that she appreciates your many years of dedicated hard work for the community. You have shown what can be achieved when people believe in a purpose and apply the best of themselves to bring it to life. She thanks you, and she will always remember you.

Omission same paragraph: Rosetta would like all of you to know…she appreciates your many years of dedicated hard work for the community. …She thanks you, and she will always remember you.

As you can see, the ellipsis is not used to cause hard feelings. It’s just punctuation, plain and simple. If younger generations criticize you, I’d say it is time for a teaching moment from the inner English major in all of you.

And don’t forget to enter the haiku contest! You can enter more than one—they just have to be your own. I’ll publish them and announce the winners on April 26.

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her

Technical Editor, Advisory

Editor’s Corner Archives: https://episystechpubs.com/


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