An ellipsis (plural ellipses) has one conventional purpose: It signals that the writer has omitted something from a quotation.

Traditionally, an ellipsis looks like this: [ … ] There are spaces before and after the ellipsis, and there are spaces between the periods comprising the ellipsis. For example, we are omitting a portion of the following sentence:

Obama baffles observers … because he’s an ideologue and a pragmatist all at once. [NY Times]

In some formats, particularly in web writing, the internal spaces have disappeared from ellipses. Many news websites have article teasers like this:


Health care reform was supposed to be President Obama’s overriding issue heading into the new year, but …

In informal writing on the web, the ellipsis has become a catch-all punctuation mark to replace colons, semicolons, em-dashes, commas, and even periods—for example:

And speaking of Napolitano’s abysmal performance over the weekend… where’s Hillary? [Althouse]

I quit watching cnn because of this bias… it’s propaganda tv to me it’s not even news. [Glenn Sacks]

Let the good times roll … [Dirt Road Heaven]

This type of ellipsis use is common on blogs and in web comment boards. But to the credit of most high-profile news websites (with some ugly exceptions), it hasn’t caught on where high editorial standards are enforced.


Check Your Text


  1. Golfytype says:

    This is only a partial meaning of ellipsis. It is also the deletion of words that we need not repeat.

  2. Golftype,

    Don’t you think that the purpose of the ellipsis as written above (i.e., “It signals that the writer has omitted something from a quotation.”) covers the “deletion of words that we need not repeat”? The deletion of words, no matter why they’re deleted, is an omission.

  3. It’s odd that you make the claim “there are spaces between the periods comprising the ellipsis,” but omit those spaces in the immediately preceding sample. In any case, it’s more accurate to say that if an ellipsis character is not available and you must simulate one using periods, you should put spaces between the periods. (Your examples all use ellipses characters rather than series of periods.)

  4. RightPaddock says:

    One should put a non breaking space between the dots as in [ . . . ]

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