Those "three dots" are ellipsis points. Their name comes from the Greek term for leaving out or falling short, and in fact, they do indicate left-out words. Think of the words elision, and elide, in poetry and in spoken language. If that's too much for you . . . just leave that part out.

We use ellipsis points to indicate that we've left out words, usually from another piece of writing or speech that we are quoting. Ellipsis points are three periods, with a space before and after them, thusly . . . and they mark omissions.

Merriam-Webster(

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary ) defines them:
1 a: the omission of one or more words that are obviously understood but that must be supplied to make a construction grammatically complete
b: a sudden leap from one topic to another

2: marks or a mark (as ...) indicating an omission (as of words) or a pause

This is pretty clear. So what's the deal with the three and four dots? When one and when the other? The answer is . . . one of the four is not an ellipsis point at all!

 

 

 

In decades past, 

The Chicago Manual of Style (13th and 14th editions) 

recommended that everyone observe the difference between three- and four-dot ellipsis. Three dots indicate missing words that are omitted from inside a sentence. Four dots indicate a whole sentence or more than one whole sentence has been omitted. WHY? Well, actually, the first of the four dots is actually not an ellipsis point at all but a period at the end of the previous full sentence.

So all ellipsis are always three dots. Sometimes they are preceded by a period ending a sentence right before the ellipsis. Voilá!
That period should be closed up tight to the word before it, just like a regular period. Then an ellipsis. Simple, eh?

But today, the Chicago Manual of Style 15th edition acknowledges that this simple rule may be too much trouble to observe. It recommends three levels of observance, which I've graded:

Simple-can be observed by anyone: Always use three dots when you leave something out. Don't worry about how to indicate full sentences or not.
Professional-observed by most editors and authors: Use three or four dots, depending on whether the preceding is a full sentence or not.
Rigorous-observed by textual scholars and legal writers: Use three or four dots, and if you change the capitalization of something because you left something out, put the newly capitalized or lowercased letter in brackets to indicate a change from the original.

And of course, much more important than how many dots is fidelity to the original meaning.

Much as an editor might want to edit the quote: "This book is a cesspool of uninformed and startling opinion. It's too bad such drivel is published about one of the most important issues of our time," one must not edit it to read "This book is . . . startling. . . . about one of the most important issues of our time," no matter how correctly the ellipsis are used.

Of course, if any readers have great stories about ellipsis like that, we'd love to read them. Elide the publisher's name, the author's name, the employers' names. Elide away, but do tell!

Message Edited by Ellen_Scordato on 07-29-2009 02:55 PM
Comments
by Moderator becke_davis on ‎07-29-2009 02:12 PM

I LOVE the ellipsis, the way it can indicate something suggestive, a thought trailing off or an interrupted thought.

 

I get conflicting instructions about the technically correct way to use them. Which is it:

 

Barnes...Noble


Barnes. . .Noble

 

Barnes . . . Noble

 

or

 

Barnes ... Noble? 

by Blogger Ellen_Scordato on ‎07-29-2009 02:57 PM

Technically,

Barnes . . . Noble

is correct. 

There is a space before and after each point.

 

However, I know that the Quark Express app, for one, has a setting like this, 

Barnes ... Noble, which is often what gets set, by default.

 

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎07-29-2009 03:06 PM
Thanks, Ellen. I've had so much conflicting advice, you wouldn't believe it.
by twi-ny on ‎07-29-2009 03:16 PM
i'm also a big fan of ellipsis points. i've been leaning toward just going with three all the time so it doesn't hurt my brain to figure out whether a fourth is really needed.
by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎07-29-2009 05:44 PM
Ellen, I'm chuckling about 'fidelity of original meaning" while thinking of some cover- and teaser-page blurbs.  Perhaps you're unaware of a use of elipsis points that never seems to make it into CMOS: Sometimes they're used in some "sweeter" romance fiction to indicate a "certain understanding" between author and reader of just how naughty the rest of a sentence would have been, had the author chosen to continue in graphic language, rather than leave the rest to the imagination.
by Blogger Albert_Rolls on ‎07-29-2009 11:31 PM
The ellipsis is the scholars friend: I've seen them used to leave out information that contradicted arguments scholars were making. That's why original sources have to be checked.
by on ‎07-29-2009 11:40 PM
(chuckle) What does it mean when I use these not just in writing, but while talking?
by hysperia on ‎07-31-2009 05:06 PM
I use them to indicate that there is more to say that I'm not saying ...
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