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

I see this type of syntax often, but I do not know how, when or where they should be used.

"It is the case that [...] the inconvenience is altogether imaginary."

Is it okay to use if I need to insert a quotation into an essay, but the quote is long and I want to omit the irrelevant parts? Am I allowed to use the syntax multiple times per quotation ?

share|improve this question
Possible duplicate of "What is the proper use of square brackets in quotes?" – RegDwigнt Nov 30 '10 at 22:19
@RegDwight that covers adding information, my question covers omitting information – Corey Nov 30 '10 at 22:32

Square brackets are used in quotes to mark information that was not in the original quote. This applies equally to added words and omitted words.


I wonder... who did that?


I wonder [...] who did that?

In the first, the speaker is pondering something; the question is somewhat rhetorical. In the second, the question is literal.

Edit: yes, you can use this multiple times in a quotation. Just be careful not to leave out so much that the quote becomes incomprehensible, or worse, changes meaning.

share|improve this answer

The three dots, ellipsis (plural, ellipses), indicate missing text. In square brackets they indicate missing paragraphs. Square brackets, containing text, can be used in a quotation to help the sense of the extract, or an explanation, i.e. any useful text that is not part of the original quotation.

Chris, freelance editor

share|improve this answer
Hi Chris. Welcome to ELU. Interesting, I've never heard before that square brackets mean a paragraph is omitted, rather than just "some text". I assume this is from a particular style guide? Do you have a reference for it. (On ELU we love references to back things up, as it means it's not just a single person's opinion. Not always possible, but in this case I'm hoping it is.) – AndyT Jan 6 at 10:08

I have checked sources and discovered my belief about square-bracketed ellipses is wrong! :-( Square brackets are only used with ellipses to distinguish editorial ellipses from quoted text where the author uses ellipses, i.e. in an article/chapter where no quoted author uses ellipses square brackets should not be used. If a paragraph is missed out, or several lines of verse, the ellipsis should be on a line by itself. Butcher, Copy-editing, 3rd edn,p. 274

New Hart's Rules, OUP (2005), pp. 159--61 (slightly different)

share|improve this answer

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.