I assumed you would use dots to show left-out unnecessary text in a quote, such as in

The definition of used oil is "oil ... that is xyz".

The deleted portion is non-useful text that would confuse my readers, but I want to show them that the cited passage is a direct quote from regulations except for leaving out some words. Are dots the correct way to do this?

  • 2
    I don't see anything wrong with the three dots, but another standard alternative might be "[oil] that has been etc. etc." Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 21:26
  • The ellipsis mark is three spaced periods. Many people erroneously omit the spaces.
    – htoip
    Commented Apr 7, 2012 at 0:31
  • 4
    @htoip: it is not erroneous. It's a matter of style. Three periods without spaces is just as correct.
    – herisson
    Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 13:52

4 Answers 4


The sequence of "dots" to which you refer are called an ellipsis. Although it's common to write it as three periods ..., note that strictly it's a special typographic character .

A proper ellipsis is always three dots, no more, no less.

Different style guides have different guidelines. If you are writing for a specific publication, use what is in their style guide (or trust their subeditors). If you have no style guide, pick a style and be consistent.

There are really only two options:

  1. Just the ellipsis on its own: "oil … that has been…"
  2. The ellipsis in square brackets: "oil […] that has been…"

I personally prefer the version with square brackets, since it is then clear that the ellipsis is not part of the original quote.

The Modern Language Association's style guide has changed its position, to that of recommending no square brackets.

  • I think the recommendation of no square brackets is indicative of the approach to use square brackets to indicate something that you add to the quotation, to alleviate confusion. i.e. "[crude] oil [...] that has been [...]" vs. "[crude] oil ... that has been ..."
    – NominSim
    Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 21:16
  • I think the use of square brackets around the ellipsis is uncommon - not to say that it is wrong, just not usually used in citations today. It is assumed that when you are quoting, you are quotig the original source, and so it would not need ellipsis - especially in the formal or academic world. If you use "x quoting y" then you should probably include the entire quote, ad so the ellipsis would be expected to be in the original. Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 9:06
  • @NominSim if you put words in square brackets, it means you are replacing some words with your own, for space or clarity. It would be dishonest to add words in this way. e.g. "I admire her work" becomes "I admire [Iris Murdoch's] work" (folding the speaker's context into the sentence). "We are proud of the books and periodicals we publish" becomes "We are proud of [our publications]".
    – slim
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 10:49
  • @SchroedingersCat I somewhat agree with your first sentence. The rest I can't make any sense of, sorry.
    – slim
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 10:51
  • 2
    @slim Square brackets are used both to replace, and to add words of your own. It is not considered dishonest because you are telling the reader that you replaced/added a word via the square brackets. (I should note that I was agreeing with you, just offering an explanation as to why they may have changed their position regarding square brackets around ellipsis)
    – NominSim
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 14:03

Please see the Chicago Style Guide on this topic. Given my advanced degree in English, my work as a professional editor, and my experience both as a teacher and as an attorney at law, I strongly advocate applying the simplest and most basic rule. In this case--given the variations suggested--the best solution is to use the ellipsis within brackets. That very clearly indicates that you have substituted something of your own for a portion of the quote: in the original situation where the writer intends to omit a word or phrase, the "something of your own" is the DELETION or ABSENCE of the omitted word or phrase. Where you are quoting something that already contains an ellipsis, it is appropriate to include in your citation the information that the omission was in the original from which you are quoting if such information is relevant to the reason for your quoting the material in the first place. Let's keep it real; the point is not to overload with detail but to enhance the point you are trying to make. That having been offered, I also send kudos to those who recognize the distinction between the ellipsis and a group of dots! While the growth of new vocabulary (dot-com comes immediately to mind as an example) certainly keeps the language lively, it is important as well to recall the rudiments necessary to keep the language ALIVE.

  • Wait, you are an attorney with degree in English?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 18:59

Dots should be used to indicate removed text that doesn't alter the meaning of the quote. This is important — especially in regulatory or other formal/legal wording. You should also only use dots for reasonably short deletions — definitely not over a paragraph, and only over a sentence if really needed.

The other option, where it is too convoluted to use dots, and you only need the context is to use:

it seems that "[oil] that has been ......."

implying that the phrase "oil" is what is referred to, but without having to always find the word somewhere.

  • I don't agree that ellipses are only for "reasonably short deletions - definately [sic] not over a paragraph" and challenge you to find a source that specifies one way or the other. Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 17:51
  • No sources, but the justification is that longer sections are better done as multiple quotes. The danger is that you lost the real flow of a passage if you cut out large pieces. Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 19:00
  • Neither claim in your comment is sound. Of course some quotes should be given as multiple quotes, but in many cases, use of ellipses works better. Of course flow may be lost in some cases, but in many others (such as when one is listing pertinent or selected facts from an explanation) flow may be irrelevant or may be improved or may be harmed, indifferently with respect to length of text dropped out. Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 19:15

I see that the Federal Register www.federalregister.gov uses two versions of the ellipsis when indicating omissions from regulatory references.
- The omission of an entire section is indicated with five asterisks, four spaces between each: * * * * * - The omission of a specific paragraph is indicated by the following the paragraph number with three double spaced asterisks: b) * * *

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