Ellipses are a useful but often misused punctuation mark. It’s mostly used to indicate that something was removed from a quote, but its actual usage can be a bit tricky.
Let’s dive back into the wonderful world of AP style.
How do I write ellipses?
In AP style, ellipses are three dots with a space on each side. Like. You need both the spaces and the three periods.
However, ellipses are often combined with other punctuation marks, including periods. This is confusing since ellipses are also points.
If there is a complete sentence before the ellipses, just leave a space between the period and the ellipses: I want to be the best, like no one ever was. … Taming them is my cause.
Same procedure if the sentence ends with another punctuation mark, such as a question mark or a colon: mark, space, ellipsis.
If you use ellipses to show that material was deleted in two subsequent paragraphs, use them at the beginning of each one. And don’t use an ellipsis at the beginning or end of direct quotes, only in the middle.
When do I use ellipses?
There are two main uses for an ellipsis. You can use it to indicate when one or more words have been removed from a quote. AP warns: “Take special care to avoid erasures that distort meaning.”
What does that mean in practice? Let’s go further and look at the AP-style entry on news values and principles as they relate to dating.
“Ellipses should be used rarely and should not alter the speaker’s meaning,” warns the Style Guide. He suggests paraphrasing if a quote is “flawed due to grammar or lack of clarity.”
That means ellipses should be used primarily to condense longer quotes or passages into something more digestible. When using one, be sure not to remove important caveats or information that alters the meaning of the original citation.
The punctuation mark is also used to indicate that a speaker or writer did not complete a complete thought. In other words, they went off instead of stopping completely. If you’re already using an ellipsis in the quote and then it goes off, use a hyphen instead.
The bottom line
Ellipses are incredibly useful for reducing quotes, whether written or spoken, to their most essential elements. But it is essential that communicators use them carefully and responsibly. Always read its shortened version next to the full version and ask yourself: Does this still mean the same thing? Have I cut out something vital, either from the meaning or the delivery style?
If the answer is yes, re-add the cut section or find ways to paraphrase. It’s our role to communicate clearly and precisely, and being too heavy with ellipses in a hurry can distort the meaning of your message.
Otherwise, remember: three dots with a space on each side.
Allison Carter is Executive Editor of PR Daily. follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.