I see this type of syntax often, but I do not know how, when or where they should be used.

"It is the case that [...] the inconvenience is altogether imaginary."

Is it okay to use if I need to insert a quotation into an essay, but the quote is long and I want to omit the irrelevant parts? Am I allowed to use the syntax multiple times per quotation ?


Square brackets are used in quotes to mark information that was not in the original quote. This applies equally to added words and omitted words.


I wonder... who did that?


I wonder [...] who did that?

In the first, the speaker is pondering something; the question is somewhat rhetorical. In the second, the question is literal.

Edit: yes, you can use this multiple times in a quotation. Just be careful not to leave out so much that the quote becomes incomprehensible, or worse, changes meaning.

  • Ugly and unnecessary. Ellipses are often used on their own to mark deletions from quotations. Hard brackets are used for insertions. No reason ever to use both at once. – frabjous Dec 24 '17 at 2:41
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    @frabjous: as my examples demonstrate, because ellipses are not used only for marking deletions, it is absolutely sometimes necessary to use both at once. – Marthaª Nov 18 '18 at 2:00
  • Sorry, but that's nonsense. If it were necessary to use the brackets when removing text when there isn't the original quote, then it would always be necessary to use them when replacing text in quotes. But it clearly is not, as this is standard process. Plus, as mentioned, it's astoundingly ugly. – frabjous Nov 19 '18 at 2:17
  • @frabjous brackets contain information for the reader. This information is not limited to "insertions", e.g. [sic] means the error in the quote was present in the original text; [...] means that some text is missing. Brackets are necessary to avoid confusion. Without brackets, the reader might think that the original author used ellipsis. And the last thing we want when we quote text is to confuse the reader. – q-l-p May 19 at 14:06
  • @q-l-p But this doesn't solve that problem. What if you are quoting a quote that already has brackets in it? What if the quoter wanted to insert an ellipsis rather than remove text? In any case, if it were that important to the reader to know whether or not the ellipsis was in the original, they can check. Not worth the ugliness if you ask me, and as I've already pointed out, it creates more confusion because it conflates two different conventions. – frabjous May 20 at 16:41

The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.) discusses square brackets with ellipses in 13.56. It indicates that in some languages (especially French [11.35]), ellipses are used more commonly than in English, and bracketed ellipses are therefore more necessary in such languages. CMS seems to default to non-bracketed ellipses for English-language works, but notes that in a particular work where confusion might result between ellipses or suspension points in a work being quoted repeatedly, and an author's own ellipses, bracketed ellipses may be used, "but only after explaining such a decision in a note, a preface, or elsewhere."


I have checked sources and discovered my belief about square-bracketed ellipses is wrong! :-( Square brackets are only used with ellipses to distinguish editorial ellipses from quoted text where the author uses ellipses, i.e. in an article/chapter where no quoted author uses ellipses square brackets should not be used. If a paragraph is missed out, or several lines of verse, the ellipsis should be on a line by itself. Butcher, Copy-editing, 3rd edn,p. 274

New Hart's Rules, OUP (2005), pp. 159--61 (slightly different)

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    Can't check your source, but I'm 100% sure you're interpreting it wrong. If it's in a quote, and it doesn't have square brackets around it, the only possible interpretation is that the quoted author wrote it that exact way. Thus, it follows that if you added or removed something, you must mark that addition or removal with square brackets. Whether the author you're quoting ever used ellipses is totally and completely irrelevant. – Marthaª May 1 '17 at 14:08
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    Despite Marthas 100% certainty, she's wrong. There are different conventions followed by different people. The convention I was taught is that hard brackets are used for insertions in quotations, and ellipses used for deletions. With that convention, you'd never use both at the same time. – frabjous Dec 24 '17 at 2:40

The three dots, ellipsis (plural, ellipses), indicate missing text. In square brackets they indicate missing paragraphs. Square brackets, containing text, can be used in a quotation to help the sense of the extract, or an explanation, i.e. any useful text that is not part of the original quotation.

Chris, freelance editor

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    Hi Chris. Welcome to ELU. Interesting, I've never heard before that square brackets mean a paragraph is omitted, rather than just "some text". I assume this is from a particular style guide? Do you have a reference for it. (On ELU we love references to back things up, as it means it's not just a single person's opinion. Not always possible, but in this case I'm hoping it is.) – AndyT Jan 6 '16 at 10:08

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