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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Ellipsis Έλλειψις (plural: ellipses ελλείψεις, Greek for "omission") in linguistics refers to any omitted part of speech that is understood; i.e. the omission is intentional. Analogously, in printing and writing, the term refers to the row of three dots (...) or asterisks (* * *) indicating such an intentional omission. This punctuation mark is also called a suspension point, points of ellipsis, periods of ellipsis, or colloquially, dot-dot-dot.

An ellipsis is sometimes used to indicate a pause in speech, an unfinished thought or, at the end of a sentence, a trailing off into silence (aposiopesis). Ellipses are often used in this manner for internet chat, email, and forum posts.

Ellipsis in writing

The use of ellipses can either mislead or clarify, and the reader must rely on the good intentions of the writer who uses it. An example of this ambiguity is “She went to… school.” In this sentence, “…” might represent the word “elementary”, or the word “no”. Omission without indication by an ellipsis is always considered misleading.

"Ellipsis" also refers to a rhetorical device in a story where the narrative skips over a scene, a form of anachrony where there is a chronological gap in the text.

Typographical rules

There are differences in typographical rules and conventions of using ellipses between languages.

Ellipsis in English

The Chicago Manual of Style suggests the use of an ellipsis (also known as an ellipse) for any omitted word, phrase, line or paragraph from within a quoted passage. There are two commonly used methods of using ellipses: one uses three dots for any omission, the second makes a distinction between omissions within a sentence (using three dots: ...) and omissions between sentences (using a period and a space followed by three nonbreaking-spaced dots: . . . .). Therefore, there is no such thing as a "four-dot ellipsis." A period followed by an ellipsis may look like four dots, but they are two separate entities.

Although some write ellipses without spaces, some institutions, such as the Oxford University Press, place one space in front of three non-spaced periods. Thus: “I have seen something ...” instead of “I have seen something...” The exception here is when a word has been cut off in the middle; that is, when the ellipsis stands for a part of one word: “‘He said he realized he was wro…’ I stopped mid-word, awestruck.” (In English this is often written as “‘He said he realized he was wro—’ I stopped mid-word, awestruck.”)

At least one style manual—the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers—recommends that the writer enclose an ellipsis in brackets ([ ]) when omitting part of an original quotation. The purpose of this is to prevent readers from confusing ellipses indicating omissions with ellipses included in the original text. However, most other style guides, including the Chicago Manual of Style, recommend the use of bare ellipses to indicate omissions.

According to Robert Bringhurst's Elements of Typographic Style, the details of typesetting ellipses depend on the character and size of the font being set and the typographer's preference. Bringhurst writes that a full space between each dot is "another Victorian eccentricity. In most contexts, the Chicago ellipsis is much too wide"—he recommends using flush dots, or thin-spaced dots (up to M/5, but thin spaces should be avoided on the Web, because they cannot be displayed reliably in Microsoft Internet Explorer 6), or the prefabricated ellipsis character (Unicode U+2026, Latin entity …). Bringhurst suggests that normally an ellipsis should be spaced fore-and-aft to separate it from the text, but when it combines with other punctuation, the leading space disappears and the other punctuation follows. He provides the following examples:

In legal writing in the United States, Rule 5.3 in the Bluebook citation guide governs the use of ellipses and requires a space before the first dot and between the two subsequent dots. If an ellipsis ends the sentence, then there are three dots, each separated by a space, followed by the final punctuation.

Ellipsis in Polish

In Polish, an ellipsis (called wielokropek, which means multidot) is always composed of three dots without any spaces between. There is no space between the ellipsis and the preceding word, but there is always a space after the ellipsis, unless the following character is a closing bracket or quote mark, in which case the space is inserted after that character instead.

When the ellipsis is used for omitting a fragment of quotation, it is always surrounded with either square brackets or, more commonly, parentheses, with no space inside:

„Słowem (...) chcemy stworzyć po raz wtóry człowieka, na obraz i podobieństwo manekinu.” (Bruno Schulz, Traktat o manekinach)

These rules are standardized by PN-83/P-55366 standard from 1983, Setting rules from composing of Polish texts (Zasady składania tekstów w języku polskim).

An ellipsis without parentheses usually means a pause in speech:

Jest słoń z trąbami dwiema
I tylko... wysp tych nie ma.

(Jan Brzechwa, Na wyspach Bergamutach...)

It can also mean a word said partially and interrupted and in that case can be directly followed by another punctuation mark without space:

Szef policji pierś wysadza
I spod marsa sypiąc skry,
Prężnym krokiem się przechadza...
Co za gracja! Co za władza!
Co za pompa! Jezu Chry...!

(Julian Tuwim, Bal w Operze)

Ellipsis can be used at the end of a sentence, but it is always composed of three dots, never four, and the only difference is the capitalisation of the next word:

Ktoś dziś mnie opuścił w ten chmurny dzień słotny...
Kto? Nie wiem... Ktoś odszedł i jestem samotny...
Ktoś umarł... Kto? Próżno w pamięci swej grzebię...
Ktoś drogi... wszak byłem na jakimś pogrzebie...

(Leopold Staff, Deszcz jesienny)

Ellipsis in Japanese

In Japanese manga, as in English comics, the ellipsis by itself represents speechlessness, usually as an admission of guilt or a response to being dumbfounded as a result of something that another person has just said or done. As the Japanese word for dot is 'ten', the dots are referred to by the moniker 'ten-ten-ten' (てんてんてん) (akin to the English 'dot dot dot'). The dots may be vertical or horizontal in stacking, and there may be more than one row/column.

In writing, the ellipsis is often six dots (in two groups of three dots). The dots can be either on the baseline or centred within the baseline and the ascender when horizontal; the dots are centred horizontally when vertical.

Ellipsis in Chinese

In Chinese, the ellipsis is six dots (in two groups of three dots, occupying two-character width). The dots are always centred within the baseline and the ascender when horizontal, but on the baseline are also accepted today; and centred horizontally when vertical.

Ellipsis in mathematical notation

The centred ellipsis is also often used in mathematics to mean “and so forth,” e.g.,


means the sum of all natural numbers from 1 to 100. However, it is not a formally defined mathematical symbol. These dots should never be used unless the pattern to be followed is clear. Another example is the set of zeros of the cosine function.

\left\{\pm\frac{\pi}{2}, \pm\frac{3\pi}{2}, \pm\frac{5\pi}{2}, \ldots \right\}

The diagonal and vertical forms are particularly useful for showing missing terms in matrices, such as the size-n identity matrix

I_n = \begin{bmatrix}1 & 0 & \cdots & 0 \\0 & 1 & \cdots & 0 \\\vdots & \vdots & \ddots & \vdots \\0 & 0 & \cdots & 1 \end{bmatrix}.

Ellipsis in programming

In some programming languages (Perl, Ruby, etc.), a shortened 2-character ellipsis, as well as the standard 3-character version, is used to either represent a range of entities or perform a bistable boolean test for the beginning and end of a range.[1] For example:

foreach (1..100)

The above command in Perl would iterate through the list of integer numbers from 1 to 100.

In Perl6, the 3-character ellipsis is also known as the "yadda yadda yadda" operator and, similarly to its linguistic meaning, serves as a "stand-in" for code to be inserted later. In addition, an actual Unicode ellipsis character is used to serve as a type of marker in a perl6 format string.[2]

In the C programming language, an ellipsis is used to represent a variable number of parameters to a function. For example:

void func(const char* str, ...)

The above function in C could then be called with different types and numbers of parameters such as:

func("input string", 5, 10, 15);


func("input string", "another string", 0.5);

As of version 1.5, Java has adopted this functionality, called varargs. For example:

public int func(int num, String... strings)

Most programming languages other than Perl6 require the ellipsis to be written as a series of periods; a single ellipsis character cannot be used.

Ellipsis in computing

In computing, several ellipsis characters have been codified. In Unicode, there are the following characters:

  • For general use:
    • Horizontal ellipsis, …, at code point 2026 (HTML entity …)
    • Lao ellipsis, ຯ, at code point 0EAF
    • Mongolian ellipsis, ᠁, at code point 1801
  • For use in mathematics:
    • Vertical ellipsis, ⋮, at code point 22EE
    • Midline horizontal ellipsis, ⋯, at code point 22EF
    • Up right diagonal ellipsis, ⋰, at code point 22F0
    • Down right diagonal ellipsis, ⋱, at code point 22F1

These code points, given here in hexadecimal, typically manifest in encoded form, either via a Unicode Transformation Format like UTF-8, or via an older character map ("legacy encoding").

The Chinese and Japanese ellipsis characters are done by entering two consecutive horizontal ellipsis (U+2026). In vertical texts, the application should rotate the symbol accordingly.

Unicode recognizes a series of three period characters (period being code point 002E, hexadecimal) as being a valid equivalent to the horizontal ellipsis character.

The horizontal ellipsis character may be represented in HTML by the entity reference … (since HTML 4.0). Alternatively, in HTML, XML, and SGML, a numeric character reference such as … or … can be used.

The horizontal ellipsis character also appears in the following older character maps:

  • in IBM/MS-DOS Code page 874, as byte 85 (hexadecimal)
  • in Windows-1250 through Windows-1258, as byte 85 (hexadecimal)
  • in Mac-Roman and Mac-CentEuro as byte C9 (hexadecimal)
  • in Ventura International encoding as byte C1 (hexadecimal)

As with all characters, especially those outside of the ASCII range, the author, sender and receiver of an encoded ellipsis must be in agreement upon what bytes are being used to represent the character. Naive text processing software may improperly assume that a particular encoding is being used, resulting in mistranslation.

The following is an excerpt from the Chicago Style Q&A [3]:

Q. How do I insert an ellipsis in my manuscript? My computer keyboard can do that with a couple of keystrokes. Is this acceptable? Or should I type period + space for all three dots? Should these spaces be nonbreaking spaces?

A. For manuscripts, inserting an ellipsis character is a workable method, but it is not the preferred method. It is easy enough for a publisher to search for this unique character and replace it with the recommended three periods plus two nonbreaking spaces (. . .). But in addition to this extra step, there is also the potential for character-mapping problems (the ellipsis could appear as some other character) across software platforms—an added inconvenience. Moreover, the numeric entity for an ellipsis is not formally defined for standard HTML (and may not work with older browsers). So type three spaced dots, like this . . . or, at the end of a grammatical sentence, like this. . . . If you can, add two nonbreaking spaces to keep the three dots—or the last three of four—from breaking across a line.

In a user interface, ... after a command means that the user needs to enter extra information before the command can execute. It is also used to signify that an operation may take some time, as in "Please wait...". In a GUI environment, clicking on a menu item with ... after the name means another dialogue box will open which requires more actions from the user, a typical example is the Run... in the Windows Start menu.

In Abstract Syntax Notation One (ASN.1), ellipsis is used as extension marker to indicate possibility of type extensions in the future revisions of protocol specification. In a type constraint expression like A ::= INTEGER (0..127, ..., 256..511) ellipsis is used to separate extension root from extension additions. Definition of type A in version 1 system of the form A ::= INTEGER (0..127, ...) and definition of type A in version 2 system of the form A ::= INTEGER (0..127, ..., 256..511) constitute extension series of the same type A in different versions of the same specification. Ellipsis can also be used in compound type definitions to separate set of fields belonging to the extension root from the set of fields constituting extension additions. Here is an example: B ::= SEQUENCE { a INTEGER, b INTEGER, ..., c INTEGER }

Types of ellipsis in typography

In typography there are various types of ellipsis, which are displayed below using TEX.

  • \mbox{lower ellipsis }\ldots\, \ldots
  • \mbox{centred ellipsis }\cdots\, \cdots
  • \mbox{diagonal ellipsis }\ddots\, \ddots
  • \mbox{vertical ellipsis }\vdots \vdots


  • Bringhurst, Robert (2002). The Elements of Typographic Style (version 2.5), pp 82–83. Vancouver: Hartley & Marks. ISBN 0-88179-133-4.

See also

  • Ellipse
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