Today we’re continuing my series of handy one-page reference guides for the struggling author. The information I am imparting to you is drawn from my reference manual of choice, Bryan A. Garner’s The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation. It takes the relevant parts of the Chicago Manual of Style and puts them into an understandable form.
On deck today is the ellipsis, that symbol of omitted words so beloved and so misused by the new, uninformed author. A signifier of things left unsaid, the ellipsis does many things, but is not punctuation in itself.
In my opinion, some people rely too heavily on the ellipsis in their prose. Used too freely, the narrative becomes halting…stuttering…gasping to a near stop.
However, just as adverbs and other descriptors are, the ellipsis is a tool and we must know how and when to use it to the greatest effect.
Quote from Wikipedia:
The Chicago Manual of Style suggests the use of an ellipsis for any omitted word, phrase, line, or paragraph from within but not at the end of a quoted passage. There are two commonly used methods of using ellipses: one uses three dots for any omission, while the second one makes a distinction between omissions within a sentence (using three dots: . . .) and omissions between sentences (using a period and a space followed by three dots: . …)
The ellipsis is a symbol, and as such, requires punctuation, even if it is at the end of a sentence of dialogue. Again, Wikipedia makes this clear:
More commonly, a normal full stop (period) terminates the sentence, then a separate three-dot ellipsis is used to indicate one or more subsequent elided sentences before continuing a longer quotation. Business Insider magazine suggests this style, and it is also used in many academic journals. Even the Associated Press Stylebook – notably hostile to punctuation that journalists may consider optional and removable to save newsprint column width – favors this approach. It is consistent in intent if not exact form with the agreement among those in favor of a fused four-dot ellipsis that the first of them is a full stop terminating the sentence and the other three are the ellipsis.
You can create one two different ways.
- Hit the period key three times in a row: …
- If you are using Word and have a number pad on your keyboard, press Alt 0133, which gives you the …
Bryan A. Garner, on page 396 of The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation lists five uses and two misuses of the ellipsis.
First, we’ll talk about the uses, listed with examples on page 396.
Use an ellipsis when an unfinished sentence trails off.
Use an ellipsis to signal rumination, musing, or hesitant continuation of thought.
Use three ellipsis dots to signal that you’ve omitted one or more words within a sentence you are quoting.
Use four dots—an ellipsis and a period—when you’ve omitted one or more words at the end of a sentence. A space goes before the first ellipsis dot.
Use four dots—an ellipsis and a period—when you’ve omitted material within a quoted sentence, but the quotation continues. No space goes before the first dot (the period).
On page 398, Garner lists two misuses.
Don’t use the ellipsis dots without the equivalent of a letter space between each pair, and don’t allow the string of dots to be split between consecutive lines.
Don’t begin a quotation with an ellipsis.
What I have discovered in my quest for enlightenment is that it is easy to misread and misinterpret rules as laid down by those who have a lot of knowledge. As I frequently say, I am always learning new things and unlearning the errors of my writing past.
Editors and publishers rely on the Chicago Manual of Style for all questions of grammar and punctuation. Indies and small presses should too, but it is a massive tome and is enormously difficult to understand, even by the most dedicated editors.
Garner’s rules are drawn from the CMoS and phrased in ways that are simple and easy to understand. If you’re serious about the craft, I urge you to do yourself a favor and invest in the Chicago Guide to Usage and Punctuation to see his explanations and examples.
Bryan A. Garner has taken the big, blue, and expensive Chicago Manual of Style and boiled it down to the things that the average writer needs to know about the grammar aspects of our craft and placed it in an affordable package.
Credits and Attributions:
“Ellipses defined”. The Chicago Manual of Style Online (16th ed.). 2010.
Wikipedia contributors, “Ellipsis,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Ellipsis&oldid=880964812 (accessed February 3, 2019).
Bryan A. Garner, The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation, pages 396 – 399. © 2016 Bryan A. Garner, published by University of Chicago Press.
Cover illustration, The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation. © 2016 Bryan A. Garner, published by University of Chicago Press. Fair use.
Cover illustration, The Chicago Manual of Style, © 2017 by University of Chicago Press. Fair use.