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4 Punctuation

4.7 Ellipses

An ellipsis (plural ellipses) is a series of points (…) signalling that words have been omitted from quoted matter, or that part of a text is missing or illegible. Omitted words are marked by three full points (not asterisks) printed on the line. They can be set as a single character (Unicode code point U+2026 horizontal ellipsis), and many word processors will autocorrect three dots into a single glyph. Some publishers prefer either normal word spaces or fixed (narrower) spaces between the points (… or …). A normal word space is set either side in running text:

  • I will not … sulk about having no boyfriend

  • Political language … is designed to make lies sound truthful

An ellipsis at the end of an incomplete sentence is not followed by a fourth full point. When an incomplete sentence is an embedded quotation within a larger complete sentence, the normal sentence full point is added after the final quotation mark:

I only said, ‘If we could …’.

A comma immediately before or after an ellipsis can generally be suppressed, unless it is helpful to the sense. If the sentence before an ellipsis ends with a full point it is Oxford practice to retain the point before the ellipsis, closed up to the preceding text. Every sequence of words before or after four points should be functionally complete. This indicates that at least one sentence has been omitted between the two sentences. If what follows an ellipsis begins with a complete sentence in the original, it should begin with a capital letter:

I never agreed to it. … It would be ridiculous.

For more details on the use of ellipses in presenting quoted material see 9.3.3.

Sentences ending with a question mark or exclamation mark retain these marks before or after the ellipsis:

  • Could we …?

  • Could we do it? … It might just be possible …!

An ellipsis can be used to show a trailing off on the part of a speaker, or to create a dramatic or ironic effect:

  • The door opened slowly …

  • I don’t … er … understand

It is also used, like etc., to show the continuation of a sequence that the reader is expected to infer:

  • in 1997, 1999, 2001 …

  • the gavotte, the minuet, the courante, the cotillion, the allemande, …

Note that other languages use ellipses in different ways: Chinese and Japanese, for example, use six dots in two groups of three. For ellipses in mathematical notation see 14.6.2.

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