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If you delete a single word (or even two or three words) from the start of a quote, should you still use an ellipsis (…) or can you put the first non-deleted word in square brackets ([Word])?

For example, if I want to delete the word "to" from s.10(c) of the Canadian Charter, which goes as follows:

(c) to have the validity of the detention determined by way of habeas corpus and to be released if the detention is not lawful.

would I write:

'…have the validity, etc.'

or:

'[have] the validity, etc.'


I'm fairly sure that multiple deleted words within a quotation are replaced with an ellipsis offset by a space on each side, or part of the quotation placed within square brackets if only a few words are removed or re-ordered (if someone could confirm this, please). So at the moment I'm concluding logically that a deleted word at the start of a quotation is replaced by an ellipsis also.

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    Under the style I was taught at a UK university I would use the three-dot ellipsis. Square brackets under (I believe "the Oxford system") are for the insertion of words which are not in the original - usually to aid clarity. – WS2 Apr 9 '17 at 8:10
  • @WS2 That system would apply to me also, being an Australian. On that note, if I change an American spelling in a quote to the British spelling, do I put in square brackets, or just write it as if it were spelt in the British way in the first place (i.e. not use brackets or other markings)? – Dog Lover Apr 9 '17 at 8:12
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    Definitely don't put have in brackets. That implies you've changed it from the original quote. For example, if you quoted instead “[possess] the validity…”, then you'd need the brackets to show that possess does not appear as such in the original. Also, and very crucially, you’re not deleting anything in your quote. Unless you quote the entire book from cover to cover, any quote will always be preceded and/or followed by more text in the original—that is the nature of a quote. There's no need to point that out. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 9 '17 at 8:20
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    That is certainly how I’ve always been taught and seen them used. Also for editorial inserts like “He [the interviewer, ed.] then started throwing ice cream at me”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 9 '17 at 8:29
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    Several (most?) American styles license putting the new capital letter in brackets: "[H]ave the validity etc." This is standard for US legal citation, for example. Use only when the partial quotation begins a sentence, otherwise just include the partial quotation as originally capitalized, eg. According to Jones, most quotations "have the validity etc." In this case, the lack of a capital letter signals that you have begun the quotation partway through. But of course, check with your particular style manual. – 1006a Apr 9 '17 at 9:11
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Just start the quote

If you have the text "(c) to have the validity of the detention determined by way of habeas corpus and to be released if the detention is not lawful" and want to skip to the middle of it, you just do that:

Section C of the statute states that the validity of the detention should be determined "by way of habeas corpus".

There's no need or sense in putting ellipses before the quote since nothing germane to your sentence or its sense is being omitted. There are occasions where you may want to draw attention to word that was left out from your quote, but there are more straightforward ways of doing it than hoping your reader notices the importance of your ellipsis.

In very formal contexts, you may wish to note that you've changed a letter's case because of a difference in grammatical placement. In those cases, you don't bracket the whole word, just the offending letter.

Section c of the statue reads that detained citizens may petition the court to "[h]ave the validity of the detention determined by way of habeas corpus and to be released if the detention is not lawful".

That final period can go inside or outside the quotes; the former is more common in American English.

  • House styles can vary, but ellipses usually follow a word... and have a space afterwards. They don't typically hover between the words. – lly Apr 9 '17 at 8:08
  • @Ily Correct. However, I believe in BrE, at least, an ellipsis will 'hover' if it does not start or end a sentence. – Dog Lover Apr 9 '17 at 8:32
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According to The Chicago Manual of Style Online,

Q. My author is using the last half of a sentence in an epigraph. He begins it with three dots and a lowercase word. Does this violate the general rule not to use ellipsis points at the beginning of a quotation?

A. It does violate the general rule. But a general rule by nature may be broken for a good reason, and clarifying a sentence fragment used as an epigraph sounds like a good reason.

So there is a predisposition (with CMoS, at least) to simply start quoting, but there is also scope for exceptions. Either way, it doesn't matter that only a single word was omitted.

Here's an example for each case:

  1. If the quote forms a natural part of the sentence, don't use an ellipsis: they were pleased that they now "have the validity of the detention" revoked.

  2. If the quote contemplates the initial part of the sentence, use an ellipsis (this example is admittedly somewhat contrived): it's time to debate the "... have the validity ..." clause.

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(c) to have the validity of the detention determined by way of habeas corpus and to be released if the detention is not lawful.

Whatever you do not want and to signal there was text before the quote, you use square brackets with three dots:

MLA style

Use square brackets whenever inserting words into an original source to clarify, simplify, or identify. Consider the following guidelines:

  1. Place square brackets around ellipsis dots to show omission of words or phrases in a antecedent is not in the quote that you are using. quotation. Put a space before the first bracket and after the last bracket.

    Example: “In 1981, when President Benjamin Harrison proclaimed the first forest reserves [. . .] his action was called undemocratic and un­-American” (Smith 59).

[...] have the validity of the detention determined by way of habeas corpus and to be released if the detention is not lawful.

  1. Place square brackets when clarifying a pronoun in the quotation because the antecedent is not in the quote you are using:

    Example: “At that time he [Lindbergh] had not yet flown the Atlantic.”

  2. Place square brackets when you need to clarify information in the quote you are using.

    Example: “The sampling records [from the mountain weather stations] were examined for levels of the same atmospheric gasses.”

  3. Place square brackets after obvious errors made by the original author and put the Latin word sic [meaning thus it is] inside the brackets. In APA style the sic is underlined or italicized but in MLA style it is not.

The three periods signal that there is something before it but that you are not quoting it. Often, for reasons of grammar of the writer's sentence, the square brackets are used to show there is more to the sentence. This is not "deletion", it is omission.

Finally, square brackets are from the author writing the text or paper.

square brackets

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It depends upon how important it is for you to maintain fidelity to the original. You would use brackets and ellipsis points at the beginning of a sentence when using what The Chicago Manual of Style 15th Edition refers to as "the rigorous method" which is used in "legal works, textual commentary, and other works that require frequent reference to the source material". The rigorous method requires any change in capitalization to be indicated by brackets in section 11.63. If a change in capitalization does not occur, like with a proper noun, then you would start the sentence with an ellipsis according to section 11.65.

Generally however, you would use the three or four dot method, which both follow the capitalization rules described in section 11.16–11.18 These methods do not use brackets, and capitalization mostly depends upon the syntactic relationship of your sentence to the remainder of the context. If you are continuing where you left off in the original, it is lowercase irrespective of whether it would be complete in the quotation, whereas if it is syntactically complete and independent you use uppercase.

According to section 11.54 ellipsis points would not "normally" be used to start a quotation (or even the last unless the sentence is deliberately incomplete) although the ellipsis may precede or follow an excalmation point, period, question mark and comma within the quotation according to the three dot method mentioned in section 11.55. All of the examples of ellipsis points I see in the book appear to be enclosed in spaces.

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