Sunday, 27 June 2010


In my occasional and arbitrary series on punctuation, I have reached one of my favourites, the ellipsis. I like it so much I have to be careful not to overdo it, for fear of giving my typescript a fly-spotted appearance.

You can use ellipses:
  • to indicate missing words in a quoted passage
  • to let a sentence trail off in an intriguing manner
  • in dialogue to suggest hesitation or reservations
Lynne Truss writes amusingly and authoritatively about the ellipsis in Eats, Shoots & Leaves, but oddly doesn't mention how handy it is in dialogue.

Dialogue in a novel is not like genuine conversation; it lacks the repetition, the scrappiness and the verbal tics of the real thing. You'd drive the reader mad with a true depiction of the way people speak. No, good dialogue in a novel is a stylized version of speech which yet convinces the reader that it is natural, and for this the ellipsis is invaluable.

My current heroine, Beth, lacks confidence, and at the start of An Unofficial Girl lets people walk over her. One way I show this is the hesitant way she speaks, just asking for people to interrupt. I don't know how I'd manage without those three dots.


  1. I love ellipsis too... I went to an English course at our local college about five years ago now and the English teacher didn't know what Ellipsis were or how to use them.

    I was, then I knew the course was of no use to me... :-(

  2. Oh me too . . . the ellipsis is my personal logo, let alone something I rely on far too much in my writing.
    I'm sure that a eulogy on me would mention that the ellipsis and I were in a strong . . . and faithful relationship . . .

  3. Now stop it, you two, you'll wear it out...


  4. No...! Why...Lexi? He, He ;-)

  5. I use an m--dash to indicate someone interrupting. Ellipses followed by someone else speaking do work to show someone has trailed off and the other person couldn't abide the quiet...

  6. Ellipses are so handy... they really are... they also convey so much! They indicate a character's act of thinking - thoughts churning in their heads while they try to reply!

    yay for ellipses!!

    good luck with your current WIP!

    Take care

  7. I agree with Norm that an em-dash is the usual way to show an interruption, but to show trailing off, or a hesitation, ellipses rule!

    I probably over-use them...a bit.

  8. The first person to comment here on-topic and without using ellipses will win a small virtual prize.

    Honestly, you lot aren't to be trusted with some forms of punctuation. I dread to think what'll happen when I get to exclamation marks.

  9. Okay, without actually using them - I love ellipses! Excellent in dialogue, especially for those more intriguing or ponderous characters.

    Did I win the prize? :-)

  10. Clair, you did indeed.

    Here it is - it's actually quite nice, especially the way the black rhodium contrasts with the gold, and the line of tiny diamonds along the wings.

    I can hardly bring myself to part with it...

  11. Thank you for my lovely prize! Diamonds are always appreciated, even in a virtual way x

    As the prize is under my belt I can now do this...

  12. Huh.

    *wanders off, mumbling to self*

  13. Hi Lexi
    I have a query you may be able to help with. I sent an email yesterday in which a rhetorical question trailed off. I finished it '..?' but should it have been '...' or '...?'? Perhaps I should either care less about punctuation or refrain from posing rhetorical questions. I should definitely send fewer emails. Or find something far more important to fret about.

  14. Of course I'm not going to advise you to care less about punctuation! I'm no expert, but I think it depends on the form of the question. For instance:

    That can't be right...can it?

    Surely that can't be right?

    But your rhetorical question may have been quite different...

  15. Puntos suspensivos, to the Spanish.

    I went through a phase on Authonomy of tearing my hair out at people who thought more dots were better. They were usually the same folks who consider multiple exclamation marks to have more impact - well, they do for me - they make me close the book and look for something else.


  16. Yes.....who was it......who wrote all her forum this? With......totally....random numbers of dots......

    Made her look asthmatic.