Everybody knows the trailing off form of ellipses: sometimes we even say, “Dot, dot, dot,” out loud. But using them for omissions is even better, because then you can cut right to the important parts of the quote, omitting any fluff. Just make sure you put a space on each and every side — especially when they come before or after a period, so you can tell which one is the period.
Let’s return to Loewen, who asserts his permise at the very outset of the excerpt: “Middle-class students . . . know little about how the American class structure works . . . and nothing at all about how it has changed over time.”
~from Stuart Greene and April Lidinsky’s From Inquiry to Academic Writing
The original quotation with the omitted parts in bold:
Middle-class students, especially, know little about how the American class structure works, however, and nothing at all about how it has changed over time.
~from James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me
- “For a child growing up in the turmoil of [postwar] Berlin . . . the Americans were angels,” Christa Maerker, a Berlin filmmaker, wrote in an essay on postwar Germany’s infatuation with the United States.
~from Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation
- “Some sort of unification is necessary. Language, . . . on the most fundamental level of human interaction, demands some compromise and chosen guidelines. . . . How can we learn from one another if we cannot even say hello to one another?”
~sample student quote in Stuart Greene and April Lidinsky’s From Inquiry to Academic Writing
- In Disney’s animated films, “harmony is bought at the price of domination. . . . No power or authority is implied except for the natural ordering mechanisms” of nature.
~from Henry Giroux’s The Mouse That Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence,
quoting Susan Willis’s “Fantasia: Walt Disney’s Los Angeles Suite”
- You’ll find the collective first person in the preamble to the Constitution: “We the people . . . for ourselves and our posterity . . . .”
~from Marta Kolln’s Rhetorical Grammar
- The letter was a response to the woman’s inquiry. It said:
“Thank you for contacting us regarding McDonald’s menu selections for vegetarians. We appreciate your thoughts, and hope the following information will interest you. . . . We presently serve several items that vegetarians can enjoy at McDonald’s — garden salads, french fries and hash browns (cooked in 100 percent vegetable oil). . . .”
~from Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation
- Ernesto Guevara sent letters home to Buenos Aires after he left, famously, on his motorcycle. Each bit of news was increasingly more fantastic and improbable. I have seen Machu Pichu. . . . I have climbed to the crater of a volcano covered in snow. . . . I am leading a rebel army. . . .
~from Hector Tobar’s “Americanismo: City of Peasants”
- And if I did pull it off . . . I was afraid to let myself imagine the triumphant aftermath, lest I invite a jinx.
~from John Krakauer’s Into the Wild
- “The splintering of media makes for a lot of incoherence or selective cognition (look at our country’s polarization), but it also decentralizes power and provides a better guarantee that the complete truth is out there . . . somewhere . . . in pieces.”
~from Thomas Friedman’s “While I Was Sleeping” in The World Is Flat
How Ellipses Work
An ellipsis is three dots spaced apart and used as either a hesitation or an omission. A hesitation can occur just about anywhere; an omission only happens inside a quotation.
For an omission in the middle of a sentence, be sure to check that the sentence will still flow smoothly once you remove the extra words, then replace them with an ellipsis. If you remove a section in between sentences, place the period on the end of the sentence and then the ellipsis, for a total of four dots. Make the next letter a capital even if it wasn’t in the original quote.
Ellipses are NOT necessary at the beginning of a quote or the end of a quote under most circumstances. This is because readers understand that this quote is only a piece of a larger context. There’s no need to remind them that you’ve left off what came before or after.
The exception is when you have somehow led the reader to believe that you are including an entire selection, such as when you quote a full letter of correspondence. If you don’t start at the beginning of the letter and go all the way to the end, use ellipses to show where you have omitted parts of it, as in the Schlosser example of a letter from McDonald’s above.
Cover up the ellipses and check that the sentence works without them (sentence structure, capital letters, punctuation such as periods and commas, etc). Be sure that all three dots have a space before and after.