I would like some ideas of the best way to punctuate a conversation that only has the words spoken by one participant.

Eg., ‘Well, when did you last see your dog? … …Yesterday morning when you put your dustbin out for the dustmen… …I’m sure it will turn up eventually… …Yes, it was two days ago, but you need to give it a few more days… …Well you ought to be glad that it’s a dog that’s gone missing. It would be two weeks if it was a person.’

So please offer any suggestions as whether this is the correct way to write this, and also how to get Word to write in ellipses.

It is not a phone call conversation. It is a person remembering a past conversation that he'd had, so it may not need the quotation marks.

  • I'm not sure you would need ellipses. For example, Edgar remembered what the constable had told him. "Well, when did you last see your dog? Yesterday morning when you put your dustbin out for the dustmen? I’m sure it will turn up eventually. Yes, it was two days ago, but you need to give it a few more days. Well, you ought to be glad that it’s a dog that’s gone missing. It would be two weeks if it were a person." Etc. The ellipses just make the text more difficult to read. May 27, 2016 at 14:39
  • I think the reader needs the ellipses, so that they can fill in the missing side of the conversation. With your example, I'm not sure the reader would follow this as one side of a two-way conversation.
    – RoDaSm
    May 27, 2016 at 15:22
  • @RoDaSm As a reader, yes. We're perfectly capable of guessing that it's a two-way conversation, and even (roughly) what the invisible participant said.
    – anon
    May 27, 2016 at 19:07

3 Answers 3


The ellipses are not the answer, and incidentally there is never a case where one uses more than one ellipsis in a row.

Unfortunately I'm not sure what to recommend. Your example is very unusual - you say it's not a telephone conversation, but then why does it only have one person's words with the intervening responses left out? If this person is remembering a past conversation, then why don't they remember the whole conversation with both participants?

You do need to keep the quotation marks, regardless. All reported speech needs them.

  • I've chosen to write it in this way for effect. The person, who has these thoughts, remembers a past situation reporting something lost at the police station, and in the reminiscence, only imagines the replies as they were what was important to him, but his personal memory of the incident was not remembered in the words that he spoke. The reason why I chose to write it like this was to emphasise the individual’s feelings of inadequacy when dealing with authority, and his words are virtually forgotten.
    – RoDaSm
    May 27, 2016 at 15:12

Remember that punctuation is a matter of style. The "rules" are those recognized by the various style manuals, and those vary between manuals, which themselves allow for exceptions and the judgment of the author. Which isn't to say that there aren't some universally recognized directives (like putting a period at the end of a complete sentence).

If you're writing under the direction of others -- for example, an editor or a professor -- you will likely have a style manual imposed on you. If you're writing for yourself, experimenting with an idiosyncratic style, then you may choose your punctuation to suit yourself. Just be aware of what other authors have done and what confusion may arise from the punctuation of more "standard" text.

James Joyce disdained all punctuation in the 4,391 words of Molly Bloom's soliloquy at the end of Ulysses. That's a series of remembrances and reflections of a character, but it attempts to replicate the stream of consciousness of someone on the verge of sleep, a sort of reverie.

The Chicago Manual of Style recommends dashes and ellipsis points to indicate interrupted speech. The latter is to be used to indicate the faltering speech of surprise and confusion:

Oh, Frank...I didn't see you...Why are you...? When did you....

The former to indicate a break in thought that's reflected in a break in the sentence structure:

The caller--and how great is the frustration of someone who's been on hold listening to on-hold music for an hour?--swore at the customer rep who finally came on the line.

If you use the google on "punctuating one-sided conversations" and "how do I write a telephone conversation", you'll find that ellipsis points are suggested if intervening descriptions are absent. Just remember to be careful with internet advice. You never know where it's been.


Is this a person who is speaking to themselves, maybe muttering under their breath? You can punctuate that sort of speech with actions in order to give it a more authentic feel. For example:

‘Well, when did you last see your dog?" {Character} paces around his kitchen. "Yesterday morning when you put your dustbin out for the dustmen… I’m sure it will turn up eventually." He clears his throat and mumbles, "Yes, it was two days ago, but you need to give it a few more days… Well you ought to be glad that it’s a dog that’s gone missing. It would be two weeks if it was a person.

  • No, I wouldn't choose that way because it is a thought stream, and I want the reader to fill in the missing words themselves.
    – RoDaSm
    May 27, 2016 at 15:18

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