ellipsesAvoid using periods and spaces

An el­lip­sis (plural el­lipses) is a se­quence of three dots used to in­di­cate an omis­sion in quoted material.

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ellipsisalt 0133option + semicolon…

The el­lip­sis is fre­quently ap­prox­i­mated by typ­ing three pe­ri­ods in a row, which puts the dots too close to­gether, or three pe­ri­ods with spaces in be­tween, which puts the dots too far apart.

So use the el­lip­sis char­ac­ter, not the approximations.

from a ... to zwrong
from a . . . to zwrong
from a … to zright

Should you put word spaces around an el­lip­sis? As with the em dash (see hy­phens and dashes), that’s up to you. Typ­i­cally you’ll want spaces be­fore and af­ter, but if that looks odd, you can take them out. If there’s text on only one side of the el­lip­sis, use a non­break­ing space on that side so the el­lip­sis doesn’t get sep­a­rated from the text.

Blue­book rule 5.3 (20th ed. 2015) de­mands el­lipses that look like pe­ri­ods with word spaces be­tween them and around them.

imperative to . . . courtsright

The prob­lem with us­ing pe­ri­ods and word spaces is that it per­mits your word proces­sor to break the el­lip­sis across lines or pages, like so:

imperative to . .
. courts
wrong

To keep the dots to­gether, make a Blue­book el­lip­sis out of three pe­ri­ods with non­break­ing spaces in be­tween. Also put non­break­ing spaces on the ends un­less there’s text on both sides. This en­sures that the pe­ri­ods be­have like a sin­gle unit of punctuation.

losses at . . . banksright
by the way
  • I’ve of­ten won­dered whether the zigzag­ging il­logic of the Blue­book is cal­cu­lated to pro­tect its fran­chise—af­ter all, if le­gal ci­ta­tion were dis­tilled to a few sim­ple rules, no one would need the Blue­book. Its sub­ti­tle—“A Uni­form Sys­tem of Ci­ta­tion”—com­presses a lot of dark hu­mor into five words.

    One prob­lem with the Blue­book’s four-dot-se­quence rules is that they use the same vi­sual mark—four pe­ri­ods sep­a­rated by spaces—to de­note at least four dis­tinct con­di­tions. Namely: a dele­tion be­fore a sen­tence-end­ing pe­riod (rule 5.3(b)(iii)); a sen­tence-end­ing pe­riod be­fore a dele­tion (rule 5.3(b)(v)); a dele­tion both at the end and af­ter the end of a sen­tence (rule 5.3(b)(vi)); and a dele­tion of one or more para­graphs (rule 5.1(a)(iii)). This in­vites am­bi­gu­ity. When read­ers come upon a four-dot se­quence, how do they know what it sig­ni­fies? It may not be clear from con­text. Proper el­lipses would help dis­tin­guish these conditions.

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