English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

After reading a question wrongly posted on programmers.SE and especially the post at PR Daily quoted in one of the answers, I have some doubts about the usage of ellipses.

In French, ellipses are also used when there are several elements in a list, but only a few are enumerated. Example:

Stack Exchange websites include Stack Overflow, Server Fault, Super User...

I always thought that in English, the usage of ellipsis in this context is not very correct, would never be used in books or press, and must be replaced by "etc.", but is still used in email communication. At the same time, the quoted post from PR Daily doesn't mention this usage.


  • Are ellipses used in emails by English-spoken people at the end of unfinished enumerations?
  • If yes, what are the guidelines for this usage of ellipses? Is it totally wrong to use them for unfinished enumerations?
share|improve this question
So which of these is incorrect, if any? "When I grew up there were nine planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth,...Pluto)...but we seem to have lost one..." – JeffSahol Jun 24 '11 at 13:55
@Peter Mortensen: thanks. Modified. – MainMa Jun 24 '11 at 19:53
up vote 2 down vote accepted
  1. First of all, in that example I'd say you would not have the last comma. So it's:

    Things like a, b, c, d...

  2. Certainly in English people use that form in emails, for sure.

  3. It is completely normal and understandable to use an ellipsis for unfinished, continuing, lists.

  4. Note that one particular use is to strike a humourous note:

    And here is my ex-wife Cindy. And there are my ex-wives Helena, Georgia, Audrey...

  5. You are quite right that it is "not really correct enough" to use in a printed book such as a novel. I'm pretty sure I've seen it a few times in, say, popular novels by Tom Clancy. But you're right, it's "not very posh," so you generally wouldn't see it in literature. And it's generally too jokey for non-fiction.

  6. I'd say you'd see it in magazines, certainly anything like Playboy or Wired. It would certainly be used (particularly for sarcastic, comic effect) in magazine articles in the UK, by, say, Jeremy Clarkson.

  7. It is completely and absolutely 100% understandable as an "unfinished list" to any anglophone.

  8. Just for the record it is used somewhat technically by mathematicians, computer scientists, when discussing ongoing series, etc.

I hope this helps give the feel!

share|improve this answer
Avoid unnecessary things like "hello!" or "see you"... :D Anyway, your answer is a bit unclear, can you organise it better? – Alenanno Jun 24 '11 at 12:56
My name is Alenanno. Anyway, moderator voting? It's not my opinion, you must keep those things out to avoid unnecessary cluttering. – Alenanno Jun 24 '11 at 13:08
Re-edited your post according to these two questions: Etiquette on addressing fellow users and Should "hi", "thanks" and taglines and salutations be removed from posts. – Alenanno Jun 24 '11 at 13:18
@Alenanno ...Sorry, just a typo! – Joe Blow Jun 24 '11 at 13:31
Mathematicians, however, do use a comma before ellipsis. – rgrig Jun 24 '11 at 21:19

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.