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#5 Top Post of the Year: The Ellusive Ellipsis

June 22, 2012

This week I have been celebrating a year of blogging! Happy 1st Anniversary, Witty Words! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the top 5 viewed posts of the entire year. Was your favorite in this list? If not, what post was your favorite? One of my favorites was “Crawl into Your Father’s Lap” because it’s a true story about my sweet little girl when she was about 3 years old.

Today is the 5th top post of the year (click if you missed #1 or #2 or #3 or #4). I love grammar—it’s the reason I majored in English. I know, geek alert! When I started this blog, I really wanted to share my love of writing and grammar, but it turns out that not everybody is as obsessed with commas, capitalization, and conjunctions as I am! However, I am very pleased that my beloved ellipsis is featured at the 5th most popular post of the year … so enjoy another look at these cute little dots!

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#5 Top Post of Witty Words:
“The Ellusive Ellipsis”

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!

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Copyright 2012, Christi McGuire. All rights reserved.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Nikki permalink
    June 22, 2012 7:18 am

    You are amazing!


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