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Everyone Does It: The Ellipsis

Everyone Does It (aka EDI) is my blog series dedicated to common mistakes that I run into while editing. These are some of the most common things that I correct on almost every project.

The first one is about the ellipsis. The what? I know, it's well . . . well it’s that. Those three dots back there signifying the omission of words.

Our friends at Merriam Webster explain it as the following:

We’ve all been guilty of the never-ending trail of dots at the end of a sentence when we weren’t quite sure how to end it or when a thought trailed off. I don’t think most of us realized there was even a name for it.

So what I’ve run into and correct most often:

It’s just three dots. That’s it. Not as many as your heart desires. Not until you lift your finger off of the key. Just three.

Although it’s technically three periods it’s just one piece of punctuation just like a question mark or a comma.

You don’t want to run rampant with any piece of punctuation (yes, I’m talking to you my semicolon and explanation point loving writers) so resist using it in every sentence of your writing.

I often think that some people think the edits that copy editors and proofreaders correct are a matter of personal opinion or whatever we feel “looks good,” but as the editor we in fact follow a little (it's actually massive) book of handy rules called a style book.

Two common books are The Chicago Manual of Style and The Associated Press Stylebook. These books act as our rule books with Chicago being the primary book for editing books and AP the primary for media. You will see AP style in magazines. They differ on many things and one of those things is how to indicate an ellipsis.

Chicago says there should be a space at the end of the sentence and then spaces between each dot which looks like this, ( . . . ).

AP says have one space at the end of the sentence and then all three dots together which looks like this, ( … ).

All of my book writing people, you will follow the Chicago way.

Have you ever seen four dots at the end of a sentence and wondered what that was about? That is because (according to Chicago) if a sentence ends with an ellipsis you will include the period.

You’ll include the ellipsis and then follow with a period (. . . .)

I hope this sheds some light on a tricky piece of punctuation and allows you to use it more confidently!



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