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, plus 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.

Weekly Grammar Tips
Weekly Grammar Tips
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  • lynnabel de vega

    most people critizes mistakes but don’t even know how to solve the problem.

  • cuyana

    so far, based on the CRAP suggestions-examples and corrections which “they” provide, there is NO WAY that i can justify, for professional purposes, buying their product; nonetheless, i do use it and recommend it … but ONLY to clean-up my most egregious, but basic, mistakes and spelling.

    to me it seems that either their suggestion-correction department [a] relies too heavily on some shoddy pattern-recognition algorithm and/or [b] is pawned-off to some overseas english-as-a-second-language telephone pool sweatshop.

    that’s okay by me: one gets the value for which one pays.


      I can only assume from the illiterate diatribe above, Cuyana, that it is an attempt at satire, or, even less amusingly, that you are indeed in desperate need of everything Grammarly can teach you.

      • M Daley

        Well said!

      • Thiago Villa

        Oh… Snap!

    • DanielM

      Cuyana – I had corrections on my use of ellipses – because I use them too frequently, and, at the end of a sentence, was still using 3, not 4 dots. They also corrected what amount to typing and speed errors on my use of commas and prepositions… again, while typing at 75 wpm…

      They were, and are, 100% correct. Your assumedly informal entry above has at least 10 errors that they would spot – and I’m sure, did… But, were I your big brother, or worse, your boss, I’d buy the pro version for you yesterday… 🙂


  • Christopher in Portland

    I’m told that I use too many, and incorrectly, ellipses…but I cannot and will not give them up. I LOVE ellipses. I often use these helpful little trios to separate trains of thought, but usually, only in e-mails…and after all, that’s not “high art” is it? When actually writing a “real” letter, i.e. one that requires a 49 cent stamp) I will put the ellipses to bed and leave them there until my next “freebie” e-mail. So there! grammarly. But thank you for catching my typos.

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