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Monday, March 9, 2009

Fourth in a Series on Ellipses by Boyd Sutton




Ellipses are an often neglected subject--one, in fact, that many editors are not thoroughly versed on. Boyd Sutton, editor of Wisconsin Writers' Journal, the official journal for WRWA, published a well-researched piece on ellipses in his 60th anniversary edition this month. He has kindly allowed me to serialize it and run it in this column, a little (digestible) piece at a time. Today he'll talk about using ellipses when you are quoting.



By Boyd Sutton, editor of the Wisconsin Writers' Journal

We all use ellipses in our writing. But getting them right is elusive. Ellipses are those three periods, sometimes spaced (. . .), sometimes not spaced (…), used to indicate that one or more words have been omitted from a quotation or, in dialogue, that a speaker has not brought a remark to completion or that there are awkward pauses in the speaker’s remarks. The problem is not so much in their usage as in their correct presentation—and in correct usage of other punctuation associated with ellipses.

Punctuating Ellipses in Quotations

Punctuation is perhaps the most elusive of all aspects of correct use of ellipses. The rules for punctuating ellipses in dialogue and quotations are different, so refer back to the last article in this series for details on dialogue.

I hope that the examples, combined with an explanation of the theory of what ellipses intend to achieve, will make it easier for all to understand and punctuate them correctly. I would welcome feedback on how to make it clearer.

USING ELLIPES IN QUOTATIONS

In quotations, ellipses are used to indicate that words have been left out because the author considers them irrelevant to his purpose. (We count on the author being honest and not omitting words that would change the quote’s meaning.)

Example: Stark’s article tell us, “Neither alternative ... is likely to solve the fundamental problem.” The author has concluded that the omitted explanation of the alternatives is not relevant, just the fact that the article concludes that neither is likely to work. Note that there is one space before and after the ellipses.

If you omit one or more words from the beginning of a quotation, it is not necessary to use ellipses—unless the document is very formal, such as an academic thesis. In that case, there is no blank space after the opening quote and before the ellipses.

Example: Actual statement being quoted, in context of an author’s writing, with nothing omitted:

In his book on Aloysius Whitman, Jake Jarvis states, “Whitman asserts that there is no need to argue the issue.”

Informal use of ellipses:

In his book on Aloysius Whitman, Jake Jarvis states, “There is no need to argue the issue.”

Formal use of ellipses:
In his book on Aloysius Whitman, Jake Jarvis states, “... there is no need to argue the issue.”

But, if you omit one or more words from the end of a quotation positioned at the end of the hosting sentence, you need to use both a period and ellipses if the quoted matter has the status of a grammatically complete sentence. Do the same if the quoted material requires a question mark or exclamation point. No blank space precedes the period/question mark/exclamation point.

Example: Here’s what it looks like with no words omitted:
Later in his article, Jarvis states, “It’s too late to solve this problem by throwing money at it, even if money were no object.”

Here’s what it looks like with unnecessary words omitted. Note that what’s left is a grammatically complete sentence, fulfilling that requirement for adding the period.
Later in his article, Jarvis states, “It’s too late to solve this problem by throwing money at it ....”

On the other hand, if the quoted matter at the end of a hosting sentence is left grammatically incomplete (that is, a sentence fragment), the hosting sentence must end with ellipses and no concluding punctuation preceding the close quotes.

Example: Jarvis simply ends with, “I see no hope for ...” It’s as though he ran out of steam and just gave up. (Note that a space precedes the ellipses, but there is no space between the concluding dot of the ellipses and the close quotes.)

If you delete material before a comma in a direct quotation, leave a blank space before the ellipses and one blank space after the ellipses and before the comma.

Example: Here’s how it looks with no omissions:
Jarvis quotes Whitman, “After completing this part of the book and taking a couple of weeks off, I brought in a new editor for a fresh perspective.”

Example with omissions: Jarvis quotes Whitman, “After completing this part of the book ... , I brought in a new editor for a fresh perspective.”

If you delete material after a comma in a direct quotation, leave a blank space after the comma and before the ellipses and one blank space after the ellipsis.

Example: Here’s how it looks with no omissions:
“The book was getting too long, despite my best intentions, so I decided to cut entire chapters.”

Example with omissions:“The book was getting too long, ... so I decided to cut entire chapters.”

If you delete one or more entire sentences within quoted material, use a period (or question mark or exclamation point) following the end of the first part of the quoted material, followed by a space, then the ellipses, then another space before the last part of the quoted material.

Example: Here’s how it looks with no omissions:
“I realized that my preparations were taking too long. I’d been at it for several hours. The sun was about to set and I’d lose the ability to detect anyone coming over the distant hill. So I declared the trench I’d dug for protection to be good enough and got out my night vision binoculars to await the inevitable.”

Example with omissions:
“I realized that my preparations were taking too long. ... So I declared the trench I’d dug for protection to be good enough and got out my night vision binoculars to await the inevitable.”

A final note. Don’t use ellipses when you are quoting a single word or short phrase into a hosting sentence. Simply use quotes. Readers will understand that you have extracted material from a longer piece.

Example: Jarvis saw Whitman’s work as “exceptional” and “a creative revolution.”

I suspect that, by now, you are tearing your hair out and declaring ellipses as “too hard,” especially those funky rules about how to punctuate them correctly. Don’t feel alone. I’m with you. As I researched this article, I learned that I have always used ellipses correctly—that is, for the right reasons—but whenever I’ve managed to punctuate them correctly it has been pure luck. And I wasn’t lucky all that often.

A note on sources: As always, my primary source is the Grammar Desk Reference, by Gary Lutz and Diane Stevenson, published by Writer’s Digest Books. I highly recommend it. The Wikipedia reference was also useful. I consulted several other references to see if their rules differed and they did not.
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Boyd Sutton is producer and editor of the Wisconsin Writers’ Journal, a quarterly publication of the Wisconsin Regional Writers Association . His articles, essays, and short stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines. He is a freelance editor and has won many writing awards, including the Jade Ring, Wisconsin’s most prestigious writing award, for his essay, “Owning Your Own Time—Managing Your Retirement.” He may be reached at journal@wrwa.net. This article first appeared in the 2008 winter edition of the Wisconsin Writers’ Journal.



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Carolyn Howard-Johnson edits, consults and speaks on issues of publishing. Find her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0978515870. Learn more about her other authors' aids at www.howtodoitfrugally.com, where writers will find lists and other helps on the Resources for Writers page. She blogs on all things publishing (not just editing!) at her Sharing with Writers blog.

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