For some of us English is an intricate set of detailed rules and regulations that govern how we speak and write. The multi-faceted ellipsis shows that language is more subtle and intriguing than that.
The three-dotted ellipsis in the middle of a sentence usually denotes omission of words or a compression of a sentence to save time or space.
For instance, in the sentence above it could be used as such: “The three-dotted ellipsis … usually denotes … a compression of a sentence to save time or space.”
That’s fairly straightforward.
Yet the ellipsis can also signpost to the reader a break or pause.
For example, “The reader was unsure about its meaning … it was time to check the dictionary”.
Yet at the end of a sentence the ellipsis can really come into its own.
It can suggest a moment of consideration or reflection, hinting to the reader that there’s something else going on in the sentence that requires a moment’s thought. It can even muster up a sense of mystery or suspense.
“All options were available to the author. She considered her words carefully before putting pen to paper…”
Something to ponder
It’s also used to highlight an unfinished thought or simply that the sentence is tailing off and coming to an end, even if it hasn’t been completed.
“The ellipsis leaves much to ponder…”
Perhaps our favourite use of this grammatical device is at the end of a block of text when it denotes to the reader that the passage of text has formally ended but – at the same time – the issues it raises require further thought and consideration.
Words enable the writer to state meaning, clearly and precisely. The beauty of the ellipsis, though, is its ability to bring the unstated to the attention of the reader. It therefore offers writers the ability to step away from writing in straight lines.
With the ellipsis writing and reading become more like most people’s thought processes … imprecise and a bit irregular, but subtle and creative at the same time.