Do You Know How to Use . . . an Ellipsis?

This is a topic that people think they know . . . until they have to actually put it into practice.

As an introduction, the “dot-dot-dot” (. . .) is known as an ellipsis. It is used primarily . . .

  1. to omit certain words or phrases from a quotation or citation
  2. to indicate a pause or break in the writer’s train of thought 👩‍💻💭

If you are using the ellipsis to omit words from the original sentence, make sure that you don’t change the meaning of the original sentence. For example,

In the following, we can see that in the correct usage, the original meaning of the sentence remains intact, whereas in the incorrect usage, the original meaning has warped into something sinister and pervy.

When it comes to using an ellipsis to indicate a pause or break in the writer’s thought, just don’t overdo it:

Extra facts:

  • The plural of “ellipsis” is ellipses.
  • If an ellipsis ends a sentence, you put an extra period at the end, i.e., four periods.

The Hyphen (-), the En Dash (–), and the Em Dash (—)

When it comes to the hyphen, the en dash, and the em dash, most people's reaction is the same as Pete Wetz' above.

A hyphen (-) is used to join words (e.g., “mother-in-law”) or to separate the syllables of the same word, e.g., at the end of a line if the word doesn’t fit:

⚠️ Never put a space before or after a hyphen.

ℹ️ NOTE: When it comes to en dashes and em dashes, different style guides (e.g., Associated Press, The Chicago Manual of Style, Guardian) have different rules and preferences, so if you are required to adhere to a certain style, you should consult the appropriate guide.


Style preferences aside, an en dash (–) is slightly wider than a hyphen, and it usually replaces “to” between a range of numbers:

  • Although it is generally viewed that a space before and after an en dash is optional, you should ask your teacher what he or she prefers.
  • An en dash got its name because it is the width of an n.
  • To make an en dash on a Mac, push option and - at the same time: ⌥ + -

An em dash (—) is the widest of the three. It can be used in place of a colon, commas, and parentheses:

We can also use an em dash to express the source of a quotation:

Lastly, em dashes can show that a speaker has been interrupted. (This usage will come in handy if you’re writing dialogue or fiction.)

  • Similar to the first bullet point regarding en dashes, you should ask your teacher if he or she wants a space before and after an em dash; different teachers will give different answers.
  • An em dash got its name because it is the width of an m.
  • To make an em dash on a Mac, push option + shift + - at the same time.

The above explanations give you a big picture look at hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes. When it comes to the fine details (e.g., putting spaces before and after a dash), consult your teacher or his or her preferred style guide.

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