Skip to content

The Elusive Ellipsis

July 27, 2011


Such havoc these three little dots cause.

When writing, you most certainly need to pause.


Where do the spaces go?

Most writers just do not know.


Do the spaces go before, in-between, or after?

The wrong style sends editors into a fit of laughter.


Check your style guide before you write,

Or make you look silly, it just might!


Instead, look intelligent, smart, and clever,

When you correctly use ellipses. The wrong way? NEVER!


I never thought three little periods would drive me crazy! I love to use ellipses. Most people do! But the problem is creating the ellipsis properly. How do you style it? Like most things having to do with grammar, punctuation, mechanics, and the like, you must consult your style guide. However, each style guide has its own … you guessed it … style! For the last 10 years, I’ve been gaining competency in the Associated Press Stylebook (or AP for short). I was first introduced to the AP style at LifeWay Christian Resources as I worked on magazines such as HomeLife, ParentLife, and BabyLife. The AP Stylebook is comically referred to as “The Journalist’s Bible,” and it has most certainly been the case for me! This guide is used mostly for writers and editors of newspapers and news magazines and is updated annually by the Associated Press.

The rival of the AP Stylebook is the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS for short), and it is the oldest style guide (first published in 1891) and the most comprehensive (over 1,000 pages) and covers everything you cannot find in other style guides. However, the style guides do have their differences in style (which I’ll save for a later post).

Now back to the issue at hand … those pesky ellipses. How do you make them?

The Chicago Manual of Style defines an ellipsis as “the omission of a word, phrase, line, paragraph, or more from a quoted passage” (13.48). Omitted material is indicated by the use of three spaced periods (or ellipsis points). Ellipses may also be used “to show a trailing off or an indecisiveness in thought or speech” (The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style, page 191).

However, the ellipsis is so elusive that four pages have been devoted to its correct use in the CMH. Four pages! So apparently, I’m not the only one who is often confused on its usage.

The confusion arises not from the dots but from the spaces. Where do they go? I’ve seen writers use every combination of the dots and spaces imaginable. Which do you suppose is the correct form?

  1. I just don’t know…where do they go? (no spaces)
  2. I just don’t know… where do they go? (space on the right of the dots)
  3. I just don’t know …where do they go? (space on the left of the dots)
  4. I just don’t know . . . where do they go? (space before, after, and in-between each dot)
  5. I just don’t know … where do they go? (space before and after the dots)

If you chose #5 you are correct! An ellipsis is created with three dots and one space before and one space after. (Although in-house style guides for particular publishers may differ—always use the appropriate style guide for your publication.)

Technically (and we are getting way technical here), the truly appropriate way to create an ellipses is with a teeny-tiny space in-between each dot; however, a “space” is too much space. How do you solve that problem? I found a fantastic blog with the answer!

“9 Months with the Chicago Manual of Style” is a very in-depth blog about “one man’s quest to read the Chicago Manual of Style from cover to cover in nine months and discuss points of grammar along the way.” How fantastic is that?

I know, I know … only for people like me who care about these tiny little dots and lie awake at night thinking about them. But Peter, the man behind the blog who is enduring the 9 months of dissecting the CMH, has saved my life … editorially speaking. I never, ever knew the secret to ellipses. Peter shares from his blog on May 6, 2011: “I’ve found a shortcut in Word whereby you type CTRL+ALT+period to get three (slightly different-looking ellipsis points).”

Can you say FAB-U-LOUS?

Thanks, Peter! Now there is no more worry about where the spaces around the dots go. We can all sleep at night knowing this valuable shortcut to creating the ellipses. And I can guarantee you all … I will be using this shortcut with devotion for the rest of my life!

Elusive? No more! Ellipses no longer have to create havoc in your life! No more sleepless nights! However, now that you know how to properly create them, my next post will be a few do’s and don’ts in using them … do … stay … tuned!

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Lindsay permalink
    July 27, 2011 8:18 am

    I am pretty sure I inspired this post! 🙂

  2. July 27, 2011 2:29 pm

    LOL! Only you and millions of others! 😉

  3. July 27, 2011 4:48 pm

    I did, too, Lindsay! I am fascinating by this … I had no idea that it was such a controversial issue (did I use them right that time??)! And the “CTL, ATL, period” thing is so cool! I just tried it on Word and it worked!

    Thanks, Christi, for this very important punctuation lesson! 🙂


  1. Ellipsis: Do’s and Don’ts « Witty Words
  2. GRAmER MysTaeKeS: Part 2 « Witty Words
  3. Grammar & Your Reputation « Witty Words

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: