Three Little Birds

First thing’s first: Ellipsis is the singular—one set of three periods. Ellipses refers to many sets of periods.

That said, you’ll never guess what this week’s Writing Wednesday is about.

There are some days I love ellipses and other days I absolutely hate them.

The days I hate them are usually when lazy people throw them on the end of random sentences they didn’t feel like finishing.

That is not how an ellipsis works.

Does that mean you can never put an ellipsis on the end of a sentence? No. But you shouldn’t use it in place of an actual period.

Save that bad boy for an actual thought that’s trailing off. Or, better yet, use it mid-sentence to indicate a pause or hesitation in what you’re trying to communicate.

Two totally appropriate instances for this otherwise overused trio!

HOWEVER, if it’s a thought you’ve actually completed but don’t feel fully committed to, steer clear of the dot-dot-dot. It’s lazy.

And don’t use it to seem mysterious or trick someone into thinking you have more to say. I know too many people who do this via text and it’s the most annoying ploy to build anticipation.

Which is why I stop responding altogether—just to foil their plan.

I never claimed to be a nice word nerd.

giphy (1)

Okay, so we’ve covered the informal uses of ellipses, but what about the formal? The reason for which these periods were grouped together in the first place?

I’m talkin’ about indicating part of a quote has been omitted.

Say I have the following quote:

“Earlier this spring, Frazier was forced to cut his hair after showing up to spring training with it at shoulder length, as the Yankees don’t allow players to wear long hair or grow facial hair as part of a policy set by longtime owner George Steinbrenner.”

That’s fairly long, yeah? But I’m a very serious journalist with a strict word limit. I must trim!

“Frazier was forced to cut his hair, . . . as the Yankees don’t allow players to wear long hair.”

Much better! And a few things to note:

  1. Style guides call for a space before and after each period in an ellipsis.
  2. You don’t have to keep the punctuation before or after an omission unless it’s required to make the new quote grammatically correct. (See my comma above.)
  3. It’s never okay to change the meaning of a quote through omission.

Re-read that third point a million times, please.

You should never use an ellipsis to take out some part of a quote you just didn’t like. The meaning of their message should be just as clear after the omission as it was before.


“People got sort of mad at her because feminists can’t have boobs or something, but the Beyhive reminded the internet that Emma Watson once criticized Beyoncé for being sexual and a feminist at the same time, and then Emma Watson had to go back and defend herself and remind everyone that no, she too loves Beyoncé.”


“People got sort of mad at her because . . . she too loves Beyoncé.”

See what I mean? Don’t do that. It’s sketchy.

And if you use ellipses so wrong you come off as sketchy and lazy, know I will make it my life’s purpose to hunt you down and throw Eats, Shoots & Leaves at your head.

Softly, of course.


Title Credit: Bob Marley

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