Posted by: suekenney | October 2, 2013

Susan’s Editorial Dictionary: E is for Ellipsis

Ellipsis (plural, ellipses) has two meanings.  The older meaning is that of omitting a word implied by a previous clause.  For instance, you might say, “The seniors sold fifteen magazine subscriptions, but the juniors only ten.”  The words “sold” (after “juniors”) and “subscriptions” (after “ten”) are implied by the previous clause.  Likewise you could say, “The Yankees lost ten games; the Mets lost only five.”  Again, the word “games” is implied after the word “five,” as in the previous clause.

Ellipsis

Ellipsis (Photo credit: mag3737)

This form of ellipsis is similar to, but not to be confused with, an eclipsis.  An eclipsis is the deliberate omission of essential grammatical elements to create a poetic or artful effect.  For example:  “This sentence no verb!”  The verb “has” is obviously omitted, but there is no previous clause to refer to.  The omission of “has” serves to highlight its very absence.

The other, more modern meaning for ellipsis is the use of three periods to indicate an word or phrase omitted from a quotation.  For instance, if you wanted only part of a line from Shakespeare, you could say, “What a piece of work is man! how noble in reason! … in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!”  The three dots of the ellipsis show that you’ve left out “how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel!”  An ellipsis such as this can indicate the omission of one word or of several sentences.

Ellipses are also used in fiction writing, with various intended effects:  to show hesitation, to indicate a deliberate pause, to heighten suspense, and so on.  In general, if you’re writing for an audience, keep the use of ellipses to a minimum; they’re useful, but too much of a good thing can damage the effect you want to elicit.  In works of non-fiction, where ellipses are used primarily to indicate an omission from a quotation, there are varying schools of thought on how best to use the ellipsis and what punctuation to use with it.  Check style manuals appropriate to your intended audience.

For a more erudite and detailed explanation of ellipses, check out the article referenced below.

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Responses

  1. Hello fellow editor! Thank you for the link.

    • You are welcome. Enjoyed reading your post on ellipses – will come back for more as time allows.

  2. Very nice, Sue – a gold star to you for your clear explanation and well chosen examples. Thanks for the link, too.


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