Ellipsis (Three Dots) for Omitted Words in a Quotation

by Craig Shrives

Three Dots for Missing Text

To show readers that part of a quotation is missing, a writer can use three dots (like this ...) to replace the missing words. (These three dots are called an ellipsis.) An ellipsis is usually written ... or in square brackets [...].

three dots (ellipsis) in a quotation

It is usually safe not to use an ellipsis before or after a quotation (as shown in the infographic) as readers understand that most quotations are taken from longer texts. However, if you have omitted from words from the middle of quotation, you should show the omission to your readers.

Examples of Three Dots (Ellipsis) in a Quotation

  • Original: "I stopped believing in Santa Claus when my mother took me to see him in a department store, and he asked for my autograph." (Actress Shirley Temple)
  • With ellipsis: "I stopped believing in Santa Claus when ... he asked for my autograph."
Here is another example of an ellipsis replacing text in a quotation:
  • Original: "A hat should be taken off when you greet a lady and left off for the rest of your life – nothing looks more stupid than a hat."
  • With ellipsis: "A hat should be taken off when you greet a lady and left off [...] nothing looks more stupid than a hat."
Another example:
  • Jameson promised: "In accordance with the statement, the bank will provide the services...outlined in the brochure."
  • (The author considers the text between "services" and "outlined" to be irrelevant. The three dots show readers that text has been omitted.)

Four Dots

If an ellipsis is used to replace words that end a quoted sentence, then it is usual to use 4 dots: three for the ellipsis and one for the period (full stop). For example:
  • When I asked her what poem she intended to read, she said John Milton's "Fame Is the Spur...."
  • (The poem's full title is "Fame Is The Spur That The Clear Spirit Doth Raise.")
  • "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma...." (Apple Founder Steve Jobs)
  • (The original quotation is "Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking.")

Extend a Sentence with Three Dots

You can also extend a sentence with three dots. This is done when a pause for effect is required.
  • There it was ... gone.
  • (In light-hearted example, the ellipsis is a pause for effect. This is not related to quotations.)
Read more about ellipsis.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

Formatting with ellipsis Extend a sentence (using three dots) Colon or comma before quotation (speech) marks? Punctuation inside or outside quotation (speech) marks? Quotation (speech) marks for ships, plays, books, etc. Double or single quotation (speech) marks? Quotation (speech) marks meaning alleged or so-called