In Honor of National Punctuaion Day: The Proper Use of an Ellipsis

Sometime earlier this year I came across a reference to today being National Punctuation Day and quickly put a reminder in my calendar. It kind of sounds like National Underwater Basket Weaving Day or some other nonsensical holiday but for the amount of time I spend answering questions about proper use of punctuation, I decided it was a prime opportunity to share.

For the un-indoctrinated, an ellipsis is those three dots you see in punctuation and not the oval you drew in high school Trig (that is an ellipse).

When used properly, an ellipsis indicates an intentional omission of a word or phrase or an intentional pause in thinking or speech. Most writers use this punctuation properly when composing their thoughts but poorly execute it as punctuation mark.

An ellipsis is always three periods (dots) and never four or five. As a punctuation mark, it is always followed by a space but never preceded by one.

There should be no spaces between the periods either. To make this easy, the most recent versions of Microsoft Word will actually adjust the formatting for you to ensure proper spacing. Try typing four periods in a row and you’ll see the difference.

Because an ellipsis is designed to provide emphases, it is important to avoid overuse. When a writer places one in every sentence or many times on the page it usually signifies that they’re too lazy to complete the thought or too inconsiderate to provide the details.


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