37

...␣part of a sentence␣...
...part of a sentence␣...
...␣part of a sentence...

Notice the spaces before/after the dots. Which usage is the correct one ?

  • 1
    I think this is General Reference google.com/… – user19148 Nov 18 '12 at 18:32
  • 3
    @Carlo_R. I dissent. Google points indifferently to good and bad resources. Ceteris paribus, questions of this sort should be addressed to the manual or style book which governs OP's publication, and the question is Not Constructive. In any case, tchrist has happily slipped in before we can close this question with an instructive citation from a widely acknowledged authority which is not accessible online, and has ornamented this with his own valuable technical observations. The best of all possible worlds. – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 18 '12 at 19:11
  • 2
    I wouldn't use 4, but it depends on who you ask. See the third paragraph down. – J.R. Feb 23 '13 at 18:42
  • 3
    @J.R. An ellipsis is three dots, but you need four dots there because the ellipsis does not allow you to dispense with the final, sentence-ending period. – tchrist Feb 23 '13 at 19:22
  • 5
    There is also the ⋰ and ⋯ and ⋱, and of course the …⋰⋯⋱… – Pacerier Mar 3 '16 at 3:40

12 Answers 12

27

This is a matter of pure style. I've worked in houses where the style sheet called for spaces before and after points of ellipsis, and in other shops where you close up the spaces fore and aft. What matters most is being consistent once you've selected one style or the other.

My preference is for the Chicago Manual of Style method, which closes up the spaces. There are other, more subtle rules about the use of points of ellipsis, and the section here in reference to Chicago explores some of the finer nuances.

One general rule to know, which is pertinent to your examples above, is that points of ellipsis are trailing punctuation - they follow words, but do not precede them. For example:

Right: "The archeologist opened the door of the tomb..." Wrong: "...opened the door."

-but-

Right: "He...opened the door."

You might start a line of text with points of ellipsis if you are writing creative dialogue in fiction, and are trying for some kind of special effect, but that is a matter outside the realm of formal composition.

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  • 2
    Somehow, "He...opened the door." doesn't feel right to me, but of course that's just my perception. In this case, I would write "He... opened the door." I've no justification for it. As RoboticRenaissance below says it's mostly a stylistic choice. – Kumāra Bhikkhu Oct 8 '18 at 9:37
10

Yes, you do put a space in front of three of them, but not in front of four of them. The open questions are whether to use three or four, and whether to put spaces not just fore or aft, but between them. The short answers to those two questions are respectively

  • that you use four without a leading no-break space if it is the end of a sentence,

  • and that you almost always want to set them with thin no-break spaces between them, but this varies a bit depending on your face and point size.

Here follows a longer and more professional treatment. . . .

In his The Elements of Typographical Style, Robert Bringhurst writes on page 82 of version 4.2 of that book:

5.2.7   Use ellipses that fit the font.

Most dig­i­tal fonts now in­clude, among other things, a pre­fab­ri­cated el­lip­sis (a row of three base­line dots). Many ty­pog­ra­phers nev­er­the­less pre­fer to make their own. Some pre­fer to set the three dots flush … with a nor­mal word space be­fore and af­ter. Others pre­fer . . . to add thin spaces be­tween the dots. Thick spaces (ᴍ/3) are pre­scribed by the Chicago Man­ual of Style, but these are an­other Vic­to­rian ec­cen­tric­ity. In most con­texts, the Chicago el­lip­sis is much too wide.
       Flush-set el­lipses work well with some faces, but in text work they are usu­ally too nar­row. Espe­cially at small sizes, it is gen­er­ally bet­ter to add space (as much as ᴍ/5) be­tween the dots. Ex­tra space may also look best in the midst of light, open let­ter­forms, such as Baskerville, and less space in the com­pany of a dark font, just as Tra­janus, or when set­ting in bold face. (The el­lip­sis gen­er­ally used in this book is part of the font and sets as a sin­gle char­ac­ter.)
       In English (but usu­ally not in French), when the el­lip­sis oc­curs at the end of a sen­tence, a fourth dot, the pe­riod, is added and the space at the be­gin­ning of the el­lip­sis dis­ap­pears. . . . When the el­lip­sis com­bines with a comma, ex­cla­ma­tion mark or ques­tion mark, the same ty­po­graph­i­cal prin­ci­ple ap­plies. Other­wise, a word space is re­quired fore and aft. When it com­bines with other punc­tu­a­tion, in (as it al­ways does at the end of a sen­tence) the el­lip­sis, in English, is also punc­tu­a­tion. On its own, it is a graphic word. The kern­ing ta­ble must in­clude it and the glyphs it sits next to.

I should add that if you do use thin spaces to space out your dots, you want to use U+202F NARROW NO-BREAK SPACE, not U+2009 THIN SPACE, because it is a single symbol, and must not be line-broken. You probably also want to control the line breaking before the three-dot form of the ellipsis by using U+00A0 NO-BREAK SPACE there. Notice how different these four scenarios work out:

  • No spaces: stuff ... here
  • Font ellipsis: stuff … here
  • Thin spaces: stuff . . . here
  • Thick spaces: stuff . . . here

Which for me looks like this:

ellipses demo

To my mind, the first two are both too skinny, and the last one looks too fat, leaving the third version to occupy the so-called Goldilocks position of being “just right”. It is indeed option number three, the one with thin spaces, which I have used in this posting – except when demonstrating alternatives.

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  • Note that at least one important US style does sometimes put a space before four dots (as well as between and after): specifically, legal "Blue Book" style specifies four dots with a leading space when a quotation cuts off the end of one sentence, and then continues with another sentence. So a regularly spaced ellipsis (3 dots, spaces before, after, and between) is then followed by a period, which is followed by its customary space. If the new sentence is abridged at the start, that's signified with square brackets around a new capital. It's not that pretty, but it is very precise. – 1006a Jul 20 '17 at 5:03
4

Choosing whether or not to include spaces between the ellipses and the words is mostly a stylistic choice, and often has to do with readability, such as whether or not the dot closest to the word tends to disappear into the letter next to it.

As for any meaning denoted by spaces and the lack thereof used in the same work, it is so varied in fictional works and formal works alike that it is a matter of internal consistency. When reading a particular book, a space before or after the ellipses may denote a longer pause or more complete thoughts, whereas the lack of a space may denote a more hurried and out-of-breath tone. When reading another book, the space and lack thereof may seem to denote the opposite. The only way to determine this objectively, in my opinion, is to take a line of dialogue that includes one or more ellipses that makes far more sense when taken one way than when taken the other way, and refer to that when deciding what the styles on the rest of the ellipses denote. I have yet to associate changes in spacing with anything other than changes in tone or pacing.

As for ellipses occurring before a line of text, this occurs often in graphic fiction, but almost always follows a bubble which ended with ellipses. This is there due to space constraints, and the inability to put a complete thought in one bubble. Less commonly, but in more mediums, this can indicate that someone is refusing to be interrupted and continues talking over someone else.

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3

Not sure where I learned it from -- maybe AP? but I like having spaces before and after an ellipsis for the simple reason that it's clear and easy to see -- and not get caught up in thinking there are only 2 dots instead of 3, which happens to me sometimes when reading prose that eliminates those spaces (Chicago Manual).

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2

When placing an ellipsis in a quote, it is like a comma, colon, semicolon, etc, no space before the "..." and yes space after.

"Stuff... more stuff..."
"... stuff."

EDIT: In chatting/texting lingo, it is common to indicate a pause before responding with a "..." without a trailing space

...I don't get it

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1

As tchrist indicates in a comment beneath the questioner's original post. some style guides have very specific rules about when to use four ellipsis points and where to place them relative to the last word that precedes them. The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition (2003) actually outlines three approaches to handling ellipses: "The Three-Dot Method" (sections 11.55 and 11.56), "The Three-or-Four-Dot Method" (sections 11.57 through11.61), and "The Rigorous Method" (sections 11.62 through 11.65).

The Three-Dot Method, which uses three ellipsis points to indicate all omissions of text from quoted extracts, "is appropriate for most general works and many scholarly ones," according to Chicago.

The Three-or-Four-Dot Method, Chicago says, "is appropriate for poetry and most scholarly works other than legal writings or textual commentary." The crucial difference between this method and the Three-Dot Method relates to how the Three-or-Four-Dot Method indicates omission of whole sentences:

Three dots indicate an omission within a quoterd sentence. Four mark the omission of one or more sentences [cross-reference omitted]. When three are used, space occurs before the first dot and after the final dot. When four are used, the first dot is a true period—that is, there is no space between it and the preceding word.

The Rigorous Method differs from the Three-or-Four-Dot Method primarily in it handling of the fourth dot:

Where the last part of a quoted sentence is omitted, the rigorous method logically requires a space before the first dot; the last rather than the first dot thus serves as the true period.

In the United States, a style guide called A Uniform System of Citation (published by the Harvard Law Review Association) governs the intricacies of using ellipses in legal writing, including the handling of omissions of multiple paragraphs in the same block quote. You can read a brief description of that style guide's main rules for ellipses here: http://www.oocities.org/gearcy1031/Tipworld/Usage/EllipsisHarvardStyle.htm.

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1

My personal preference is to have no space between the word and the ellipsis, and no spaces between the dots, but a space after the ellipsis and the next word. Since the ellipsis signals a pause, having that space after it only reinforces (for me) that pause. And I leave out the spaces between the dots because in ebooks, if there are spaces, often the ellipse is broken between lines if it occurs at the end of a line. It can be very confusing: one or two dots at the end of one line, and then one or two dots at the beginning of the next. Is it a mistake, or a broken ellipse? For simplicity's sake, I leave out the spaces between dots so the ellipse remains intact.

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1

The two major style guides differ on whether you should put a space before and after ellipses. Me personally? I have two different types of ellipses. One is to indicate a truncated excerpt, the other is to indicate a pause or trailing thought.

I put spaces left and right of the ellipsis to indicate omitted text. In all other applications, I anchor the ellipsis to one word or the other, usually the word to the left of the ellipsis.

==============

ORIGINAL TEXT: "In other parts of the world, where more traditional forms of payments aren't as deeply rooted as they are in the West, mobile payments and digital wallets have become the default."

TRUNCATED TEXT: "In other parts of the world ... mobile payments and digital wallets have become the default."

ALTERNATE FOR TRUNCATED TEXT: "In other parts of the world [...] mobile payments and digital wallets have become the default."

==============

TRAILING THOUGHT: "The couple wondered if they might ever... No, it wasn't possible."

LONG PAUSE (FOR SUSPENSE/EFFECT): "This hasn't happened... yet."

INTERRUPTED THOUGHT: "The dog concentrated on each of his master's commands intently, trying to abide by... Squirrel!!! Those pesky vermin always distracted him."

==============

One style guide says to put spaces between the ellipsis periods, but this disregards the typographer's concerns and makes for an ugly layout.

UGLY: "This hasn't happened . . . yet." (Huge typographical white space created.)

==============

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0

Some snippets from all of the above comments/answers, I agree with...up to a point. I learned to read when I was three years old, instantly fell in love, and by all accounts, didn't take my nose out of books in general for the following eleven years. I excelled at my English classes, and was an English/Business English major in college. I learned the following general rules throughout my lifetime of study, as well as in my Business English class...and they are definitely the rules I prefer to follow:

No spaces before or after ellipses when used inside of, at the beginning of, or at the end of a sentence; however, an 'ending period' should be added at the end of a sentence, IF the writer intends to convey it as a completed sentence with a finite ending...but if they want to convey a sense of the subject simply 'trailing off into the Ether', then only the ellipsis should conclude the thought, with a space after the ellipsis to indicate the start of the next sentence.

Incidentally, I use two spaces after a period to begin my next sentence; I find it makes it much easier to read, whether one is using a monospaced or proportional-width font...though I notice this form is forcing it to use only a single space after a sentence...well, pooh....


More examples:

  • Start of sentence...(<<--breaks in the sentence-->>)...with a trailing thought... Another sentence might follow that thought...(and so on).

  • A complete sentence can also have alternate ending punctuation after the ending ellipsis in lieu of a period, just like other sentences...such as an exclamation point or question mark. "I do often wonder why the heck you would want to go out with him...? He lies so often, you can't believe a word he says...! I guess we all have to make our own mistakes...but I sure wish I could spare you the suffering of this one...."

  • I want to add so much more about using quotes with ellipses, using them at the beginning of sentences, using them for omitted text, etc.; unfortunately, I am actually long overdue on a screenplay I'm trying to proof...and none of the answers I've seen so far solve my own question, so I have to get back to it...I just couldn't resist putting in my 'two cents' regarding their use with spaces, since none of the answers I've seen offer the same guidelines I've grown up with. Perhaps these rules are old and out of date now, but I really hope there are still some large groups hiding out there somewhere who disagree with that...!


Good luck to all my fellow obsessive English-lovers out there!

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  • add citation(s) to your answers if you please – lbf Mar 23 '18 at 20:16
-1

I have come across the convention that you use three dots (never heard of a four-dot-ellipsis before), but if you end a sentence you still have to use a sentence ending full stop, thus making it four. That is the only case in which I would use four dots....

When quoting it also depends on context: In academic texts you would typically use square brackets, as in I think I'd be a champion. [...] Of course assuming... — in this case I have always only ever encountered three dots as well. If you leave out too much text you would simply use two separate quotations.

So my suggestion is: only use three dots, regardless of how much you're skipping.

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  • 1
    What is wrong with ending a sentence with a terminal ellipsis? – theUg Feb 23 '13 at 19:21
  • 1
    Nothing in principle, it's only ambiguous whether the sentence terminates or not, as the ellipsis is not a sentence-ending punctuation mark...! – Oliver Mason Feb 23 '13 at 19:27
  • Well, I would like to see a style guide about that. Ussing ellipsis in conjunction with exclamation point is preposterous in principle, as ellipsis implies waffling, whereas exclamation is definitive. – theUg Feb 23 '13 at 19:28
  • @theUg As you can tell by its having “style” in its title, Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographical Style is a style-guide, and one of Biblical import no less. – tchrist Feb 23 '13 at 19:32
  • @tchrist, going to have to library that. – theUg Feb 23 '13 at 19:37
-1

Ellipsis in typography is specifically three dots. Pre-composed typographic ellipsis is a single type block that contains those dots in one entity. If one tries to copy this:

they would see it copies as one item, not as three separate period marks.

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  • Yes, an ellipsis is three dots, but when used in conjunction with final period/full-stop, it looks like four. – tchrist Feb 23 '13 at 19:21
-1

Yet another consideration needs to be given to the overall look-and-feel of the page and the visual, aesthetic appearance of the page regarding its line breaks: sans a trailing space, it's possible for a "long–word–ellipsis–long–word" (wikipedia example) text stream to be forced to wrap to the following line, leaving

  1. a large white space on its ragged right edge in the previous line,
  2. for justified text, large, white spaces in a line of text,
  3. or on the other side of the text flow fence, its text can expand off the page, as in the wikipedia example cited above.

For the no spaces before and after an ellipsis option, the trailing space would have to be a conditional, zero-width space. I can't think of any other way to accommodate all possible occurrences.

Interestingly, some browsers don't know how to handle zero-width spaces. :-(

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