Use of an ellipsis.


Is an ellipsis ever used to show a much longer pause in someone's dialogue? Context: My protaganist is sobbing, and she is having to take deep breaths between words. Example: "As Susan cried rivers of tears, she sobbed, 'Tom...I told you...I didn't...want to...see you...anymore.'" Or is it better to use "commas" or "dashes"?

edited Jul 23 '11 at 06:15 H. A. McRay New member

4 answers


Ellipsis is fine for this, but you need a space after it, they don't run straight into the following word. 


"Tom... I told you... I didn't... want to... see you... anymore."


Dashes could also be useful, if you want the pauses to be of different lengths. 


"Tom – I told you! I... didn't... want to... see you... anymore."


Just a suggestion ;-)

link comment answered Jul 22 '11 at 14:46 Siân Harris Expert

My understanding was that ellipsis should only be used in formal writing to show that something has been left out, not that time has passed.  I think a dash is better for that.

link answered Jul 24 '11 at 01:44 Kimberly Expert

Thanks again Kimberly. In regards to your answer, I thought so too. But within the last 10 yrs., I've found a few of writer's magazines, that were in agreement with the answer "Alternative Copy" gave. So, I still don't know what the answer is. Yet, you Kimberly are the expert. I've got a question to all contributors & other readers. Has anyone ever found any off the popular authors, use an "ellipsis" to signify a longer pauses between words. Now, if one or more authors in fact, have used this writing fashion, that doesn't make it grammatically correct, it just means that certain editors & publishers accepted their authors unusual quirk. Like, wasn't there an author, ten to twenty yrs. ago, who wrote a popular book without any punctuations at all? I guess some writers/authors a grammatical purists, while others who write their works, totally "out-of-the-box." H. A. McRayJul 24 '11 at 02:54

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I felt this question about the usage of my "ellipsis question" needed some additional clarification. Both answers helped, but left me still somewhat confused. So, for the benefit of others that maybe also confused, I hope my additional information will be helpful:


Yes an"...ellipsis should only be used in formal writing...", but I'd like to emphasize the word: formal, (academia, essays, book reports, term papers, et al).

I found an expert reference that supports both of the two answers above, and they were right here on's site, in the Grammarly Handbook -- which I did not know of its' existence (because I'm a "newbe") until just a few moments ago. I would definitely recommend to all to “copy and paste” the handbook, and save it as a document. 


It is the information that follows, that "...made all things perfectly clear"* to myself.

Here is the exact quote (copied and pasted, bullets added by me), along with its' three examples written for an  informal document:


"...An ellipsis can also be used to show that someone has stopped speaking or thinking before the sentence has been completed, or that there’s a long pause in the speech. This is an informal usage: don’t use it in academic writing."


  • "Andrew, can you, um… never mind, I forgot what I was saying."
  •  "So, do you think we should…?"
  •  "He… speaks… so… slowly… it’s… as… if… he… is… trying… to… annoy… you."


Please Note:You will observe in the above sentances, that after the three dots of an ellipsis', skip a space.


So, bottom line -- if  the document is to be given to an academic instructor (i.e. school teacher), then an ellipsis should be only used to show omitted words. But, in the case of a long pause, usage should be an informal document -- or as in my case, for a story or a book I am writing... well, this will be the job for your editor at a publishing firm to accept or not (i.e. the ellipsis).


* A paraphrased quote from our 37th U.S President, Richard M. Nixon.

link comment edited Jul 25 '11 at 09:46 H. A. McRay New member


Does anyone do them correctly?

Don’t take my word for it. If you care about such things, flip through any best selling  fiction novel and you will see how they are supposed to be written.

Check the Chicago Manual of Style (the gold standard for fiction used by most publishers) is the best all around reference. It elaborates on what I am saying here. Refer to it for the complete story.)

If you do not have the Chciago Manual Of Style, go on line and connect with Grammar Girl (Megas Fogaraty). Here is a quote from her: “An ellipsis consists of exactly three dots called ellipsis points–never two dots, never four dots–just three dots. (Space-Period-Space-Period-Space-Period) Just make sure your dots don’t end up on two different lines “ Fogarty also gives a good memory jog. “The ellipsis is typically standing in for a word or a sentence, so just imagine that it’s a word itself, and then it’s easy to remember to put a space on each side.” Hope this helps!

link comment answered Feb 04 '12 at 08:03 G. Scherphorn New member

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