The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







This article is not about the ellipse, the flattened circle shape.

In printing and writing, an ellipsis (plural: ellipses) is a row of three dots (…) or asterisks (* * *) indicating an intentional omission. This punctuation mark is also called a suspension point or a dot dot dot.

An example is, “She went to … school.” In this sentence, “…” might represent the word “elementary,” or the word “no.” The use of ellipses can either mislead or clarify, and the reader must rely on the good intentions of the writer who uses it. Omission without indication by an ellipsis is always considered misleading.

An ellipsis can also be used to indicate a pause in speech, or be used at the end of a sentence to indicate a trailing off into silence.


Typographical rules

There are differences in typographical rules and conventions of using ellipses between languages.

Ellipsis in English

The Chicago Manual of Style suggests the use of an ellipsis for any omitted word, phrase, line or paragraph from within a quoted passage. There are two commonly used methods of using ellipses: one uses three dots for any omission, the second makes a distinction between omissions within a sentence (using three dots: …) and omissions between sentences (using a period followed by three spaced dots: . . .).

Although some write ellipses without spaces, some institutions, such as the Oxford University Press, place spaces before the ellipsis. Thus: “I have seen something ...” (instead of “I have seen something...”) The exception here is when a word has been cut off in the middle; that is, when the ellipsis stands for a part of one word: “‘He said he realized he was wro...’ I stopped mid-word, awestruck.” (In English this is often written as “‘He said he realized he was wro—’ I stopped mid-word, awestruck.”)

Sometimes 4 dots are used in an ellipsis, often to represent a period following an ellipsis.

At least one style manual—the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers—recommends that the writer enclose an ellipsis in brackets ([ ]) when omitting part of an original quotation. The purpose of this is to prevent readers from confusing ellipses indicating omissions with ellipses included in the original text. However, most other style guides, including the Chicago Manual of Style, recommend the use of bare ellipses to indicate omissions.

Ellipsis in Polish

In Polish language ellipsis (called wielokropek which means multidot) is always composed of three dots without any spaces between. There is also no space between the ellipsis and the preceding word, but there is always a space after ellipsis, unless the next character is a closing bracket or quote mark, in which case the space is used after that character.

When the ellipsis is used while omitting a fragment of quotation, it is always surrounded with either square brackets or (more commonly) parentheses with no space inside:

„Słowem (...) chcemy stworzyć po raz wtóry człowieka, na obraz i podobieństwo manekinu.” (Bruno Schulz, Traktat o manekinach)

Those rules are standardized by PN-83/P-55366 standard from 1983, Setting rules from composing of Polish texts (Zasady składania tekstów w języku polskim).

Ellipsis without parentheses usually means a pause in speech:

Jest słoń z trąbami dwiema
I tylko... wysp tych nie ma.
(Jan Brzechwa, Na wyspach Bergamutach...)

It can also mean a word said partially and interrupted and in that case can be directly followed by another punctuation mark without space:

Szef policji pierś wysadza
I spod marsa sypiąc skry,
Prężnym krokiem się przechadza...
Co za gracja! Co za władza!
Co za pompa! Jezu Chry...!
(Julian Tuwim, Bal w Operze)

Ellipsis can be used at the end of a sentence, but it is always composed of three dots, never four, and the only difference is the capitalisation of the next word:

Ktoś dziś mnie opuścił w ten chmurny dzień słotny...
Kto? Nie wiem... Ktoś odszedł i jestem samotny...
Ktoś umarł... Kto? Próżno w pamięci swej grzebię...
Ktoś drogi... wszak byłem na jakimś pogrzebie...
(Leopold Staff, Deszcz jesienny)

Ellipsis in Japanese

In Japanese manga, the ellipsis by itself represents speechlessness, usually as an admission of guilt or a response to being dumbfounded as a result of something that another person has just said or done. The dots may be vertical or horizontal in stacking, and there may be more than one row/column. The growing popularity of manga worldwide has extended this convention beyond the borders of Japan.

Ellipsis in mathematics

The ellipsis is also often used in mathematics to mean “and so forth,” e.g.,


means the sum of all natural numbers from 1 to 100. However, it is not a formally defined mathematical symbol.

Ellipsis in computing

In computing, the ellipsis character in the Unicode encoding is encoded as hexadecimal 0x2026, which is displayed as “…”. The HTML character entity for it is … (for ‘horizontal ellipsis’). The character appears in some proprietary 8-bit encodings, but not in the commonly-used ISO-8859-1 encoding, though some misguided software may attempt to insert the character in a nonstandard way by using a code position from a vendor-specific character encoding as if it were an ISO-8859-1 or Unicode code position.

In a user interface, ... after a command means that the user needs to enter extra information before the command can execute.

Types of ellipsis in typography

In typography there are various types of ellipsis, which are displayed below using TeX; the diagonal and vertical forms are particularly useful for showing missing terms in matrices:

  • a lower ellipsis \ldots \ldots
  • a centred ellipsis \cdots \cdots
  • a diagonal ellipsis \ddots \ddots
  • a vertical ellipsis \vdots \vdots

Other meanings

An ellipsis is also a rhetorical figure of speech, the omission of a word or words required by strict grammatical rules but not by sense. The missing words are implied by the context.

Typical examples of this are:

Pat embraces Meredith, and Meredith, Pat,
in which the second instance of the word embraces is implied rather than explicit.
And so to bed,
which appears on several occasions in the diary of Samuel Pepys, meaning and so I went to bed.
Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an' a' that;
from the opening of a poem by Robert Burns. Burns is asking:
Is there an honest man among us who hangs his head, and otherwise cringes, because of his Poverty?

The aposiopesis is a form of rhetorical ellipsis.

Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46