Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The use of ellipses...

I post on Thursday, and this post will say I published it on Wednesday, but it was close enough to midnight! I won't be online much tomorrow and I didn't want to miss my day again!

What is an ellipsis? To be honest, I was going to come up with something quirky, but I am angry with my sister right now. So angry, in fact, that I....

See what I did there? Ha! And that was unintentional. I was really going to tell you that I am so angry with her that I actually had a dream last night in which I was yelling at her. But instead of finishing my sentence, I trailed off with an ellipsis. You will noticed I used four periods. An ellipsis is a series of three dots, but because I ended the sentence with it, I still have to add the period to signify the close of the sentence.

The most common usage of an ellipsis, is during dialog. In fiction writing, (in non fiction, an ellipsis indicates the omission of a word or words) we all know how important it is that our characters are individuals. A big part of characterization, especially in writing YA, is dialog. I've seen some writers using an ellipsis to signify an interruption, or to separate a clause, and this is incorrect. In such cases, you should use and em dash.

Em dash from
em·dash or em dash (ěm'dāsh') n. A symbol ( — ) used in writing and printing to indicate a break in thought or sentence structure, to introduce a phrase added for emphasis, definition, or explanation, or to separate two clauses.

Just so we're clear, I'm going to give an example of each.

Em Dash:
"James, I dunno what to tell you. I think--"
"Don't think. Just don't."

James interrupted the first speaker. He cut off her sentence so we used an em dash.

"James, I think...I dunno what I think."

The speaker did not complete her thought, so I used an ellipsis to signify that.
I realize these are both poor examples, but you get the idea.

Ellipsis can be wonderful tools in writing dialog, but over use can make your writing hard to read, choppy and just down right poor. If your sentence ends in a full thought, one dot will do.


  1. No, I am no longer upset with my sister.Never been one to stay angry for long.

  2. Glad to hear things are better w/ your sister! Good post and I always try to keep these in mind when writing -- although I'm more in love with em dashes right now. Can you tell? :) Happy 2010!

  3. I use em dashes more than ellipses also.

    I was making a post on the SCBWI message boards because when I make an em dash, my end quote is backwards. I asked how to fix this problem, and another poster told me, "[She] uses dots and [she] never has a problem." I figured if this SCBWI member doesn't know the difference between em dashes and ellipses (dots), maybe I could/should make a quick post on our blog.

  4. This is a great post! You really make the difference clear. I'm glad to see that I mostly use them both correctly.

    I had never thought to make two quote marks and delete one in order to use the em dash in quotes. Every time I see it in a book I'm annoyed that they can do it and I can't!

  5. I don't know how else to fix it! And nobody on SCBWI seemed to know either. It has something to do with the fancy curly quotes in TNR fonts, I think.

    I've been working on my dialog a lot this week--highlighting the word "said" and replacing most of them with beats--and I've been using a lot of ellipses and em dashes. It's fun :)

  6. I'm new at dialog (tech writing background), and I confess a weakness for ellipses. They are a crucial tool for marking rhythm in speech, showing hesitancy and incomplete or changing thought. I hear the voice in my head as I write, and ellipses just fall out naturally.

    It's a characterization thing: one person is confident, the other...unsure.

    I'm currently working on a scene in which one person rants, while her two companions ignore her. All we hear of her is the occasional word.




    I came here on a search for "ellipses in dialog"; your entry is one of the very few that's not about using an ellipsis to indicate an expandable choice in a user interface dialog.


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