What do you call three periods in a row? Take your time, we’ll wait . . .

The Ellipsis

Those three little dots are called an ellipsis (plural: ellipses). The term ellipsis comes from the Greek word meaning “omission,” and that’s just what an ellipsis does—it shows that something has been left out. When you’re quoting someone, you can use an ellipsis to show that you’ve omitted some of their words. For example:

Hamlet asked whether it was “nobler . . . to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles.”

In the sentence above, the words “in the mind” have been omitted from the quote. Occasionally, you might need to leave out part of a quote because it’s irrelevant or makes the quote hard to understand in the context of the sentence. The ellipsis shows that you have left something out.

You can also use an ellipsis to show a pause in speech or that a sentence trails off. This technique doesn’t belong in formal or academic writing, though. You should only use the ellipsis this way in fiction and informal writing. For example:

Andrew, can you, um . . . never mind, I forgot what I was saying. So, do you think we should . . . ?

How Many Dots?

How many dots are in an ellipsis? The answer is three. But, if the ellipsis comes immediately after a grammatically complete sentence, that sentence still needs its own period. So you would end up with a period, an ellipsis, which looks like four periods in a row. For instance:

“Call me Jonah. My parents did, or nearly did. They called me John.”

might be shortened to:

“Call me Jonah. . . . They called me John.”


Whether you put spaces between the dots or not is a matter of style. The Chicago Manual of Style calls for spaces between each ellipsis point. The AP Stylebook says to treat the ellipsis as a three-letter word, with spaces on either side of the ellipsis but no spaces between the dots. You can use either style; just be consistent throughout your document.

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