Adventures With Punctuation: The Ellipsis


Did you know that there’s a term for when one uses three periods in a row? And furthermore, do you know what that name is? Go ahead, we’ll wait…

When three periods join together in or at the end of a sentence, it is called an ellipsis (plural: ellipses). The word comes from the Greek “elleipein,” meaning “to leave out,” which is exactly what those three periods do!

Using the Ellipsis

When used properly, an ellipsis is placed inside a quotation where words from the original phrasing have been omitted. For example:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized”

might be shortened to:

“The right of the people to be secure … against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated …”

How Many Dots?

Traditionally, three dots are used in the ellipsis. However, there is one exception to this: if an ellipsis comes after a sentence that already ends in a period, you still need to keep the period. So, in these cases, there would be four dots in total! Here is an example:

“Barbara went to the store to buy some Brie cheese. She found Gouda, parmesan, and cheddar, but no Brie. She left empty-handed.”

could be shortened to:

“Barbara went to the store to buy some Brie cheese. … She left empty-handed.”


The way in which you choose to space your ellipses depends on which style guide you are following. AP guidelines treat ellipses as if they are a word of their own, with spaces on either side but no spaces between the periods themselves. On the other hand, MLA ad Chicago both require you to add a space before each period and a space after the last. The style you choose to follow is up to you, but stay consistent!

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