Would it be:

If I had only said, "I love you."...


If I had only said, "I love you"...

or even

If I had only said, "I love you,"...

Basically, the ellipsis would represent someone trailing off. For example, the person might have wanted to say: If I had only said, "I love you," he wouldn't have run off.

Or something like that. While I'm at it, is that the correct punctuation for that sentence as well?

  • I do not understand the question. Could you restate it so that the role of the ellipsis is clear? In other words, what words does the ellipsis represent? – Michael Owen Sartin Jan 25 '14 at 1:07

Alas for the poor ellipsis! He’s completely overused, overworked, and quite rankly far too routinely abused in our 21ˢᵗ century world. Please consider giving him a well deserved break. After all, you don’t see him peppering every page of fine English literature, now you do?

Also, the correct formulation in English for this sort of optative exhortation must begin “If only”: you cannot interpose any words between the If and the only as you did above. For example, one might say If only it were otherwise! and be on perfectly sturdy ground. It just wouldn’t do to insert it were between the first and second words; it ruins the effect and the meaning.

You therefore should have said

If only I had said ‘I love you’!

Although one need not have quotation marks in indirect speech, which this is.

If only I had said [that] I love you!

I’ve used an exclamation point in all these because such exhortations are generally considered formally exclamatory in nature. You can see this in the other common way of saying the strong phrase above: Would that it were otherwise!

There is one exception. Maybe you meant something different. If you actually meant that you wished you had said nothing beyond those three words but instead had said more than that such that you now feel regret at talking too much. Because that’s what your phrasing comes across as saying.

Try it the other way if that was not what you intended. I think you’ll find it works better that way.

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  • OP is writing informal verbiage. Nonstandard diction and an emotional omission are style choices, and secondary to the question at hand. – DougM Jan 25 '14 at 4:21
  • If you had only omitted the second paragraph, I would have upvoted. – Tim Lymington Jan 25 '14 at 10:17
  • "If I had only..." and "If only I had..." are both perfectly valid. They just mean different things. "If I had only smacked him, instead of smacking AND stabbing, I wouldn't be in jail." vs "If only I hadn't smacked him, he would still be my friend." However, for dialog, it's the author's choice based on emotional impact. – Eli Feb 6 '14 at 16:03
  • The ellipsis outside of quotation has one very strong value: I've found that if an internet forum (a mail list, a web forum, what have you) has a post from a newcomer that heavily uses ellipses, the author is almost always suffering from some sort of mental issue and will cause headaches for the group sooner or later. There's the passive-aggressive form ("everyone must fill in the blanks exactly as I mean them, and I will pour scorn upon those who don't") and the dissociative form ("I express myself with unconnected clauses, because that's how I think"), both of which are worth kill-filing. – Jon Hanna Feb 7 '14 at 12:09

As a rule of thumb, short quotations don't need preceding or terminating punctuation.

There's no question of ambiguity with:

If I had only said "I love you"…

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The second form is correct.

"If I had only said 'I love you'..." "But you didn't, and so I left."

No period is appropriate, as you're reflecting a kind of self-censorship. Compare:

"If I had only said 'I love you' it would have been perfect."

The comma could be included, but it's not strictly necessary.

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