Digging through every ELU question I can find on the matter, I still can’t locate a specific answer to this question of punctuation. Which of these is correct?

  1. “Maybe...” I said, injecting an intentional pause, “we will find him.”

  2. “Maybe...,” I said, injecting an intentional pause, "we will find him.”

Note that this is an interrupted quotation. It is not a “voice trailing off incomplete sentence,” followed by another sentence. Without the textual interruption, it would be “Maybe... we will find him.”

Comma or no?

ADDENDUM: I'm adding a bit more here, because despite the excellent answers I've already received, there's a point I want to make which hasn't precisely been addressed, and it's this:

I want to retain the structure of the sentence exactly as it is, as a creative choice. The pause implied by a comma alone, although generally sufficient (e.g. "Maybe, we will find him.") is not adequate to my purpose here. Mea culpa, I could not include the amount of contextual material that would have made this clear, but if you accept that I want to get a long intentional pause with a dying inflection (and not the more abrupt pause signified by a dash), then would you consider a comma to be nice punctuation, or unnecessary?

A simpler way of looking at the same question might be this: Which of the following works better?

  1. "Maybe..." I said.
  2. "Maybe...," I said.

Perhaps all I'm really asking is, is the usual comma that comes before I said necessary after an ellipsis?

  • Does this question truly merit an uncommented downvote?
    – tchrist
    Apr 1, 2013 at 2:35
  • @tchrist Thanks, T. It's as we've seen before; who can account for a random downvoter's concept of meritoriousness? Apr 1, 2013 at 2:55
  • As I have written, according to Bringhurst, who is the expert on these sort of things, the comma comes first not last. Grammar Girl agrees, but that doesn’t really matter much.
    – tchrist
    Apr 1, 2013 at 2:57
  • @tchrist Hey, your edit included changing the orthographic style of the quotation marks. Very cool. But how do you do that? Apr 1, 2013 at 2:59
  • I use a Mac: the curly quotes are just single keystrokes. Otherwise, you have to resort to either murine snarf-n-barf, or to typing the four-six–digit Unicode code point number by hand.
    – tchrist
    Apr 1, 2013 at 3:02

3 Answers 3


So the actual spoken words would be:

Maybe we will find him.

Orthographically, the pause can be shown as:

"Maybe... we will find him."


"Maybe [pause] we will find him."

I doubt that there's any specific rule for this. You can probably write it:

"Maybe", I said, injecting an intentional pause, "we will find him".

Unless you're wedded to the American rule requiring that comma after "maybe" to be inside the quotation marks. Even so,

"Maybe," I said, injecting an intentional pause, "we will find him."

should be sufficient because it tells the reader that there was a pause; therefore, the ellipsis seems superfluous.

  • Thanks for giving solutions that do not require the ellipsis.
    – tchrist
    Apr 1, 2013 at 2:16

Since you’ve asked me, I would write that this way:

“Maybe,” I said, injecting an intentional pause, “we will find him.”

The comma suffices for the pause; if you need more you can always add it to the parenthetical non-quoted text. For a more dramatic pause, one uses not ellipses in normal writing, but a dash:

“Maybe—” I said, injecting an intentional pause, “we will find him.”

If at the end of the day, you just cannot stop yourself from using an ellipsis, as though it were a text message sent over a cell phone, then I suppose you could write it this way:

“Maybe, . . .” I said, trailing off and injecting an intentional pause, “we will find him.”

But I don’t care for it.

Notice that I have used “. . .” for a duly spaced ellipsis, not just “…” all squishticated together.

That’s because while an unspaced ellipsis makes sense on a typewriter, where each key occupies a constant amount of space just as in a constant-width font such as one uses in programming, when actually setting one in a proportional font such as this one, you do not want to do that.

As I explain in this answer, Robert Bringhurst says that

When the ellipsis combines with a comma, exclamation mark, or question mark, the same typographical principle applies.

But you should read the rest of the answer for more details about what goes where and why — and how.

Realizing that one Bringhurst is worth uncountably many Grammar Girls, if you lack the full Bringhurst text and have some affinity for what’s-her-name, you can read what she has to say on this matter here, where she in fact recommends precisely what I have written above.

  • Thanks, T. +1 Lots of useful stuff in here. Hope you don't mind I cleaned up a bit of your punctuation -- tiny fixes you would have done yourself, I'll warrant. Apr 1, 2013 at 2:23
  • @JohnM.Landsberg You did? I don’t see it, nor in the edit queue, but ok. My punctuation is either punctiliously precise, or replete with random, dumb typos. Alas.
    – tchrist
    Apr 1, 2013 at 2:26
  • I hadn't when I wrote that, but since then I have! And by the way, thanks for "squishticated." I love the word! Apr 1, 2013 at 2:28
  • @JohnM.Landsberg Yup, just saw it in the queue and approved. Much better with your fixes. Thanks.
    – tchrist
    Apr 1, 2013 at 2:29

Yes the comma is necessary. An intentional pause is longer than a comma ordinarily denotes, so the ellipsis should be retained. ("Maybe...we will find him.")

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