Author Topic: What is an Ellipsis?  (Read 90 times)

Offline JanTetstone

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What is an Ellipsis?
« on: November 04, 2018, 12:50:25 AM »
I. What is an Ellipsis?

Ellipsis is a grammatical term and, as such, is used in two main ways.
1.When it is a written symbol that appears as a sequence of dots, usually three (…), they will indicate that parts of a word or sentence have been omitted. These are called ellipsis points.
2.The use of ellipsis can also be more stylistic. This is when a word or phrase is left out, or omitted, from a sentence. The words omitted may be necessary to make a sentence syntactically correct but they are not necessary for a reader to fully understand the sentence’s meaning.

You can also take this context a step further when you are writing and want to omit larger spans of time. This use of ellipsis allows authors to move a story along without getting bogged down in unnecessary details. This use might be easiest to understand if you think of the concept of “time-lapse”.

“Ellipsis” is a Latin word, but it can also be found in Greek as “elleipsis.” These words both mean “to fall short, or leave out.”

Ellipsis noun, and it is pronounced (ih-lip-seez). Its plural is ‘ellipses’.


II. Examples of Ellipsis

Here are examples of ellipsis points:

Example 1

This is the beginning of Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address. The ellipses points are used to let the reader know that this is only part of the entire quote:

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth…the proposition that all men are created equal.

Example 2

Here is a stylistic example of an ellipsis where a word is omitted:

In the baseball game, our team scored four homeruns, the other team, only two…

In this example, the words “homeruns” is left out of the second part of the sentence. The sentence remains complete, however, because the context makes it clear that the author is referring to homeruns, not something else.

Example 3

For an example of ellipsis in the larger time-lapse sense. Think of the Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling. This series spans the course of seven years. However, the focus of the plot is on the time that the central character, Harry, spends at his boarding school, Hogwarts. The mundane details of his boring summer vacations are greatly left out.


III. Types of Ellipsis

There are many types of ellipsis and they are mostly grammatical. They have names such as:
◾verb phrase or ‘VP’ ellipsis
◾sluicing and
◾noun phrase or ‘NP’ ellipses.

Describing how these work can become as technical as the study of grammar itself. This is because an ellipsis is always associated with something else in the sentence—the part that is left out. The best scholars describe ellipsis as “an interface phenomenon between syntax, semantics, and information structure.” Simply put, each type of ellipsis corresponds directly to the parts of speech that are being omitted and refers to what sort of ‘hole’ is left behind in the sentence.

The most important thing to understand about them is that, if something is left out of a sentence, but you can still understand the sentence, you have an ellipsis.


IV. The Importance of using Ellipsis

In writing, we quote and borrow all the time. When you leave out words or phrases, however, you change meaning. Ellipsis points are important because they tell your readers that something is missing. The points help your audience understand that you have only quoted part of something, and that they can go back and fill in the blank should they wish to. If you have used the ellipsis points responsibly, they should not need to.

Giving your audience this piece of information is particularly important in a field like journalism, where facts and opinions can be twisted easily and quickly. Consider these two sentences:


Susie’s paper was a strongly written, albeit factually inaccurate and alarmist, account of the downtown protest.


Susie’s paper was a strongly written…account of the downtown protest.

The second sentence is an irresponsible use of ellipsis because it leaves out vital details and fundamentally changes the meaning of the sentence.

The importance of using ellipsis, or omission, stylistically, is that you can cover a lot of ground without getting bogged down in unnecessary details. When you are writing, you cannot include every detail all of the time. Nor would you want to, and nor should you. Whether you are using ellipsis in the larger stylistic sense or using the physical ellipsis points, this literary device helps to reduce clutter and sharpen the focus on the point you are trying to make.


V. Examples of Ellipsis in Literature

The use of ellipsis points in formal writing is different from the stylistic use of ellipsis in literature. The stylistic use of ellipsis in creative writing refers to an even larger application of its grammatical context. Rather than just informing us that some details are missing, it also helps us to hear the character’s voices.

Example 1

a. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald shows us perfect examples of a time lapse ellipsis (as he reminisces) and gives voice to the character:

His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was . . .

. . . One autumn night, five years before, they had been walking down the street when the leaves were falling, they came to a place where there were no trees and the sidewalk was white with moonlight.
 (Chapter 6)

b. In that same novel, there is also an excellent example of ellipsis points giving life to someone’s speech. Because of the use of the points, we can hear Jordan gradually fading away, but we can also understand what she means even though words are missing:

[Jordan] ‘It was-simply amazing,’ she repeated abstractedly. ‘But I swore I wouldn’t tell it and here I am tantalizing you.’ She yawned gracefully in my face. ‘Please come and see me . . . Phone book . . . Under the name of Mrs. Sigourney Howard . . . My aunt . . .’ She was hurrying off as she talked-her brown hand waved a jaunty salute as she melted into her party at the door.
 (Chapter 3)

Example 2

Novels that span great amounts of time also use ellipsis, but in its largest application. The historical fiction novel Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett takes place over the course about 51 years. Although the novel is large and historically accurate, only the pivotal years during that time are described. Many historical details are left out because they do not directly influence the characters and central plot.

Example 3

Books in a series also make use of ellipsis, as there is usually a gap in time between volumes. Think of your favorite series. Is it Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, or The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis, perhaps? In any case, you will find that time passes between the volumes, and often, within the novels themselves.

VI. Examples of Ellipsis in Popular Culture

One of the most common uses of ellipsis is popular culture is in filmmaking. Films are made up of scenes, strung together by a central story line. They do not show every moment of every character’s life. They include only the scenes that move the plot forward. The other details are left to the audience’s imaginations. Think of your favorite television series. Is it Game of Thrones, The 100, Reign, The Flash, or something else? In all of these, the screenwriter and director choose the scenes they show carefully and specifically. They jump back and forth between characters, showing different sides of the same story, but they don’t show every moment of each character’s life. The characters are brought in and out of the main action in ways that move it along in the most entertaining way.

The same technique is used in theatre, for stage plays. The playwright only includes the most important words and scenes. The audience members use their imaginations to decide for themselves what happened when the lights went down and the set was changed. In the musical Wicked, the main characters are Glinda and Elphaba. Both characters are essential to the plot, but they are not always both on stage.

Here is an excerpt from Act 2 Scene 8:

ELPHABA:   Oh for Oz sake! Stop crying I can’t listen to it anymore! You want see your Aunt Em and Uncle what’s-his-name again? Then get those shoes off your feet! Squeaky little brat takes a dead woman’s shoes, must’ve been raised in a barn! Chistery! Oh Chistery, there you are. Where are the others? Chistery, please if you don’t at least try to keep speaking you’ll never…

(GLINDA arrives unexpectedly.)

ELPHABA: Go away.

GLINDA: They’re coming for you.

ELPHABA: Go away!

GLINDA: Let the little girl go and that poor little dog, Dodo. I know you don’t want to hear this but somebody’s got to say it: You are out of control! I mean, come on, they’re just shoes let it go! Elphaba, you can’t go on like this.

In this scene, we do not know exactly what Glinda was doing or where she was coming from, but the dialogue gives us enough information that the plot continues without disruption.

VII. Related Terms

Suspension points

Ellipsis points are used to indicate a suspended or interrupted thought, or fragmented speech.


She thought my joke was so funny that she began to stutter “th…th…that…wa…was… awesome!”

How to Use an Ellipsis

When using ellipsis stylistically, there are not many rules to follow. Most importantly, make sure that your information flows smoothly and that your audience can follow where you lead. You want to keep them interested in your story, whether it is fact or fiction, and you want that story to remain fresh and interesting.

 Ellipsis points always indicate that something has been omitted, and as such, must be used correctly. They may look strange to you at first, but as you use them more and more, you will get used to them. Remember these two things:

1.Punctuate your sentences properly, even if you think the ellipsis points look strange. The ellipsis points are taking the place of words and may go before or after your standard punctuation.

2.Make sure your sentence is grammatically correct, even though there is something missing. This may take some consideration and stylistic creativity on your part. You must remain true to the original meaning of the quote, while adapting it to your purpose. Be careful.

When to use Ellipsis

Ellipsis is a literary device that is appropriate in any situation. However, you want to make sure that your writing is complete, so consider your use of ellipses carefully. That said, here are just a few technical rules to get you started:

◾In quotations, use ellipsis points whenever you leave out words or phrases.

◾Never use ellipsis points to join two statements that are unrelated or far apart in their original printing. Your quote must always be true to the original meaning.

◾Ellipsis points are generally not used at the beginning of a quotation.

◾Rework your sentence so that it sounds and looks complete, without compromising your quotation.

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Offline Mark T

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Re: What is an Ellipsis?
« Reply #1 on: November 04, 2018, 09:05:28 AM »

Thank you, Jan. Most informative. Just to add to what you said about punctuation, an ellipsis at the end of a sentence gets a full stop/period mark, if you know what I mean....

If I can suggest a topic for another research article, dialogue attribution and general dialogue structuring is a problem area for many writers.


Offline wwdovestudio

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Re: What is an Ellipsis?
« Reply #2 on: November 13, 2018, 02:51:26 PM »
Thanks Jan.

I use Ellipsis for suspense or when my character dialog or scene is cut off (my son usually goes 'dun dun dun') so that is sort of how I've always thought of them. I hadn't realized how many ways they are used. I hope I have been using them correctly in my work.

Offline JanTetstone

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Re: What is an Ellipsis?
« Reply #3 on: November 13, 2018, 03:18:42 PM »
Thanks Jan.

I use Ellipsis for suspense or when my character dialog or scene is cut off (my son usually goes 'dun dun dun') so that is sort of how I've always thought of them. I hadn't realized how many ways they are used. I hope I have been using them correctly in my work.

You welcome Dove.   I didn't realize a lot about writing until I joined MWC. I have more on ellipsis.... I'll try to post soon.                  jt