The Ellipsis

The ellipsis (...), also called omission marks or the suspension, has just two uses.

First, the ellipsis is used to show that some material has been omitted from the middle of a direct quotation.

Second, the ellipsis is used to show that a sentence has been left unfinished. Unlike the dash, which is used to show that an utterance has been broken off abruptly (recall the unfortunate General Sedgwick!), the ellipsis shows that the writer or speaker has simply "tailed off" into silence, deliberately leaving something unsaid:

Colonel García leered at the prisoner: "We want those names now. If we don't get them..."
San Francisco gets a major earthquake about every sixty years. It has been ninety years since the last one...

This second usage is more typical of journalistic prose than of formal writing; excepting only when you are citing a direct quotation which seems to require it, you should generally avoid the ellipsis in formal writing.

Copyright © Larry Trask, 1997

Maintained by the Department of Informatics, University of Sussex