The Bearded Iris

A Recalcitrant Wife and Mother Tells All

Your ellipsis is showing

Welcome back for Week #2 in my Back-to-School series of tips for bloggers!

Last week I shared a basic typesetting rule that blew a lot of you away.

Yes, many of us who learned to type either on a typewriter or from a teacher who learned on a typewriter had it drilled into our little heads to insert two spaces at the end of each sentence.

Ring a bell?

Well stop that! Your PC/Mac is NOT a typewriter. 

Unless you’re specifically using a fixed-width font like Courier, one space is plenty between sentences. Go read last week’s post if you’re just joining us and need more details.

I know I promised you some Twitter tips today, but I had several requests in the comments last week to address two other punctuation issues: ellipses and commas.

So, if you don’t mind, I think we’ll stick with punctuation today and table the Twitter tips for next week. I promise, it will be worth the wait.

Ellipses, aka [dot dot dot] . . .

I love to use ellipses in my writing. This is probably because I write in a very casual style, just like I speak (buuuuurp).

Up until last Tuesday, I always made my ellipses look like this…

…three dots, in a row. No big whoop.

But you know what? I WAS WRONG! After Lib suggested I address this pet peeve topic, I Googled it to make sure I was doing it correctly and was shocked to learn that I was not. If you go back through my older posts, you will see what an ellipsis loser I used to be. (*Hangs head in shame.*)

According to Grammar Girl (my hero), the correct way to do an ellipse is with a space before and after every period, like this . . .

Note, a proper ellipse has THREE periods (aka ellipsis points)—not two, not four, not seven. THREE. And there should be a space before the first period and a space after the last period too. Just pretend the ellipsis is replacing one word and it will help you remember to surround it with a space on each end. Some desktop publishing programs will insert an ellipse for you with the proper spacing included. If your program does not do this automatically, just type it out manually: space-period-space-period-space-period-space. Just make sure your text doesn’t wrap around and spread your ellipsis out over two lines. That would make doves cry.

(Oh my LAWD, Harold, did she just say “spread your ellipsis”? What kind of filthy blog is this?)

Amended 10/2/2012: I’m sorry—I was wrong. Please don’t insert spaces between your dots in ellipses. I have written a retraction and explanation here

The bigger issue with ellipses is knowing when and why to use them. There are many schools of thought on this and you’ll get a different answer everywhere you look. Personally, I tend to use them in dialogue quite a bit to indicate a pause or a falter in speech. For example:

“I’m sorry to hear about your child’s problems at school. My cousin had that . . . right before he took all those semi-automatic weapons up into that clock tower.” ~When Facebookers Attack

Another common way to use ellipses is to indicate an omission when you’re quoting someone and don’t want to include their entire sentence/paragraph. As long as you don’t omit something important or change the meaning of their quotation, this is fine.

Okay. Are we cool on ellipses then? Great. Moving on . . .

Commas

Commas can be tricky. Several people commented last week that they were “comma challenged.” As an editor, I find myself inserting commas more often than I delete them. This is mostly because not everyone sees the necessity of the serial comma (often called the Oxford comma or the Harvard comma) which is the final comma used in a list of three or more items.

The word on the street is that British people and newspaper columnists don’t use serial commas. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the serial (Oxford) comma. But not everyone feels the same way. It’s really a style choice, but I always err on the side of communicating as clearly as possible.

Here’s one of my favorite examples (source unknown):

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Perhaps my favorite is this famous little snippet from The Times about a documentary by Peter Ustinov:

Betcha didn’t know that about Nelson Mandela, that cheek!

Frankly, even if the writer had included the serial comma after the phrase “an 800-year-old demigod,” there could still be some ambiguity about Nelson Mandela. Is he really that old? Is he a demigod? Wait, who is the dildo collector? What the hell is happening here?

The lesson being that a properly placed comma can only take your writing so far. Oh and also, if you are hiring strippers who look like JFK and Stalin in the above example, you’ve got bigger problems than your grammar. I’m just saying.

Well that’s all the time we have for today, my friends. I hope these grammar tips will help you tighten up your writing and make your blog posts look their best.

Next week we’ll cover some Twitter tips every blogger needs to know.

And tomorrow I’m announcing the sponsors and prizes for the Craft Whores contest (which officially begins this Thursday). You won’t want to miss it!

See you tomorrow!

-Leslie

54 Comments

  1. Well, here we go again. . . I use ellipses quite a bit. And I’m thinking Lib was thinking me-that bitch. HA Love you Lib, well, maybe not. No, really! It’s been 30 years since I gradumicated from college. I need help. Thanks! Next time, you are buying……

    • Oh, honey – I think about you a lot (wink), but you weren’t the subject of my thoughts on this one!

      Here’s the kicker: I’ve been doing it WRONG the whole time! I’ve seen people do the spaces but thought it was yet another WRONG variation. I’ll go back to my cave of wrongness now…

  2. I love you. I hate when people don’t use the Oxford comma. Thank you for showing people that the comma is important to the meaning of the sentence. May I send you to talk to a friend of mine who uses ellipses (or technically, a bunch of dots) between every sentence?

  3. Again, great info! p.s. Ellipses . . . space-period-space-period-space-period-space?!? MIND: BLOWN. 🙂

  4. An editor friend told me that it is proper to use 3 periods if you are using them in the middle of a sentence, like in your example above, and 4 periods if you are using them to end a sentence. Like this:
    “Well, that’s not what your mom told me last night . . . .”

    I have no idea if that’s entirely accurate, but I started doing it. Thank you for the spacing info, I did not know about that!

    And thank you for doing this series!

    • Ha! First of all, LOVE your sample sentence. You’re my kind o’ girl!

      Here’s what Grammar Girl says about the whole 4 dot thing:

      “If you’re omitting something that comes after a complete sentence, meaning that your ellipsis has to follow a period, put the period at the end of the sentence just like you normally would, then type a space, and then type or insert your ellipsis. Again, you’re treating the ellipsis as if it were a word: the first word of the next sentence. This will result in four dots in a row with spaces between each dot, but this is not a four-dot ellipsis—there’s no such thing. It is a period followed by a regular three-dot ellipsis.”

      However, I read that to mean this only works if you are quoting someone and omitting the middle part of a paragraph. I don’t think this works with your brilliant quote above. The thing is, there are many different style guides for grammar, so in cases like that, there could be multiple possible solutions. I think you are pretty safe using 3 ellipsis points and if you have an editor who likes it another way, she can add in the fourth dot. 🙂

      • Thank you! I guess I’ll just stick with the 3 dotter (that’s what she said).

        Okay, I’ll stop. Anyway, I appreciate your looking into it. I know I need to bone up on the specific punctuation rules, as I don’t have an editor for my blog (it was just a friend, who is an editor, pointing it out to me) AND I really need some twatter rules because I haven’t a clue as to what I am doing there. So again, thank you for doing the series and especially, thank you for writing your blog in general because you really crack me up! (Your satirical post about the woman beating her husband to death with the coffee mug is hands-down my favorite. I am laughing just remembering it.)

  5. I never knew about the spacing with ellipses, learned something new again! I was always accused of being a comma whore in collage, I’m always more worried about using too many commas, than not enough.

    • Dude! Even though I’m the person who “inspired” (let’s go with that) the post, I got schooled on the spacing, too! And I’m laughing about the comma thing because I was lectured during my baccalaureate about my improper use of commas! I’m pretty sure I still don’t have it down.

      There’s hope for all of us!

  6. Whaaattt??? Omgoodness! First, no double space between sentences, and now THIS?? I must put a space between my ellipsis??? Awkward missy! Just plan awkward! LOL… err . . . (better?) As for the comma thingy . . . well, I certainly don’t want any JFK or Stalin strippers, so I always use them they way you do! Birds of a feather and all that . . . …dude…this spacing between spacing is crackin’ me up!! Thanks Leslie! Mucho gracias!

    • I know! It is new to me too. I have to say though, I do like the way . . . looks, more than… It’s just harder to type and it counts as more words with the extra spaces, so if you need to keep your word count down, you’re screwed. That said, the ellipse is probably the most overused punctuation in blogging today, so maybe we should all try to use it more sparingly. Problem solved! 🙂

  7. Where can I submit an idea for a new rule for the ellipsis so that it can be reviewed by the general public and voted upon accordingly?

    I wish we could use the “…” with no spaces and no spaces between the dots and the word in front of it to mean a hard pause or trailing thought and then use the ” . . . ” to mean that a quotation has had non essential text removed from it.

    What if we called them different things? Please? I just like the look of the one so much better…

    • I hear ya, sister. I don’t make the rules, I just strive to live by them. Well, by most of them. FINE, some of them. Oh, whatever. And look at you with your “non essential text removed” thing! Impressive! I like your style.

      • I have made a decision. Rules be dammed! I’m goin’ rogue. I’ve lived my life by the “…” and it has served me well. I can’t (won’t) abandon it now. Not when it clearly needs me the most… Ahh! See?!
        You know how, in the 1700’s and such, they used to use a character that looked like an f where some of the s’s went? That “ridiculoufnefs” would still be going on today if some ne’er do well hadn’t stood up and said “Nay, that makes much more sense as an s. Henceforth, it shall be an s in my book.”
        …and so shall be my plight with the ellipsis.

        • And apparently I’m also skirting the rules when it comes to spelling the word “damnit”. Oh well. So be it. 🙂

          • I like to spell that one “dammit” even though I know it’s totally wrong. Personal choice! Sometimes I even do it in all caps DAMMIT, which is doubly wrong. Some rules are made to be broken, like “please take one” and “reserved” and “parental guidance suggested.” Pshaw.

  8. The publicist’s addled brain remembered what she was trying to about spacing from last week and that was the addition of an extra space after the (hopefully) proper use of a colon; she was taught to double space after a colon and single space after a semi-colon.

    Dare you tackle the {{shiver}} apostrophe? Otherwise known as the comma’s high sister.
    The publicist does not want to go into the misuse of apostrophe’s on the internet’s. 😉 It’s almost as bad as its and it’s and there, they’re and their.

  9. Can you do commas next? Blergh…

  10. I’m a big fan of the serial comma while my boss is not. I’m starting to think she and I were not meant to be.

    I did not know that about ellipses! Huh . . . you learn something new every day.

    From now on, I will be spreading my ellipses.

  11. I’m a grammar geek.

    SEriously.

    I stay up late and read grammar rule books.

    On my tenth one.

    The stuff fascinates me.

    Only when you know the rules, can you know how to break them. And feel Okay about it.

    Knowledge is power.

    Word.

  12. And, please, I’d say I hope you don’t plan on spreading your ellipses at NonCon, but I know better …

  13. Damn . . .

  14. I knew the spacing, and I’m a huge fan of Oxford Commas, but lemme tell you about me and ellipses. Some idiot teacher in like eighth grade told us that we needed on dot for each omitted word, with a minimum of three. (I swear she taught us this. There are adults in Mt. Orab Ohio with dots all over their facebook statuses to prove it, I’m sure.)

    So ……………….

    Yeah. I wrote sentences like that. For a long fucking time. And now that I’ve been doing it for ages, my brain has a hard fucking time doing it RIGHT. I have stopped adding one dot per word. However, I’m prone to four. Or five. Or two sometimes, which I never thought was right. And I KNOW it is three. But I can never remember about the spaces. And it doesn’t matter, because in the heat of typing, I only ever do what comes to mind at that moment which is NEVER EVER consistent, so I can’t even make a defensible defense for the practice.

    Also, for God’s sake, please tell my husband that historians and their commas are all fucked up. He hates to use a sufficient number of them.

  15. ONE dot. Not on dot. Ugh.

  16. Holy crap… ellipsis whaaat . . . ???? and Oxford comma whoo????
    Actually I remember these lessons from 8th grade English (almost 40 years ago). I do try hard to remember to use commas properly because, as in your examples, it can make a real difference in the subjectivity (is that a word?) of the conversation.
    For the most part, I would be happy if most people would start using spell check and periods at the ends of their sentences. Suggesting that the general population start using commas could lead to political turmoil and mayhem in the streets.

  17. Oh Lord – I am a busy woman! I do not have time to type spaces between each freakin’ period in my elipsesesess… uh, I mean . . .
    This is going to mess me up for weeks, man.

  18. Boy have I been misusing the hell out of the ellipses for years. I love that you’re doing this series. That is all . . .

  19. OH MY GOD!

    My Blog is titled “Simone Says…”

    I’ve had it wrong for the last 6 years.

    Wondering if I should fix it, or just be the rebel I was born to be.

  20. I love the ellipsis – it is my fave for sure.
    I remember the comma rule like this:
    Mom died and left her money to Tom, Dick and Harry (the money is split in two) or she left her money to Tom, Dick, and Harry (the money is split in three).
    It’s all about the money baby. . .

  21. ” . . . if you are hiring strippers who look like JFK and Stalin in the above example, you’ve got bigger problems than your grammar.” Hey now. Don’t judge.

  22. Well after last week’s trauma, I am revived by this lesson. . . eclipses fine I can do that and of course use Oxford commas. . . I am a former medical transcriptionist. The patient was suffering from hot flashes, dry vagina, and loss of libido. Oh wait, just read that from my own chart. . . hahahahaha.

  23. You want to know something funny? When the Wicked English teacher isn’t looking, I refuse to use ellipses correctly. Shhh.

  24. Long live the Oxford comma! I was a rebel tonight and included one in my Britely despite being told not to by a member of the grammar police. And I can’t wait to tell Erin that even SHE has been doing the ellipses wrong. You out geeked her. Brava!!

    Ellen

  25. I knew it was THREE, even though it went against my OCD of even numbers, but the weird thing is that the html code is <> and there are no spaces between the dots. Does that mean the internet is wrong? ACK.

  26. OMG this is too much! But please keep going! First the one space after a full stop, then I buy the books, now the elipses and the Oxford comma! Next you’ll be posting on spelling and I’ll be in heaven!

  27. When will we have a grammar lesson on the em dash? My preference is two — because that’s what I was taught a jillion years ago. What’s the deal these days?

  28. Hi, I’m Heather and I’m an ellipsis-aholic. . . I use and over-use the ellipsis on a regular basis. . . I have a family member who always spaced between them and I never knew why – now, I know!! Can you now work on a post to make apostrophes fun?? Despite Googling the rules almost every time I use them, I still can’t get remember the rules when I try to use them!! Yous makin’ me so sma-ht!!! 🙂

    • Oh, I can help you out a little on apostrophes (I’m a first time commenter here jut because of you).
      Apostrophes show one of two things, generally.
      1: Ownership. “Thomas crashed his car into my friend’s living room.” Now, if the owner happens to already end in ‘s’, you do not add an apostrophe plus an s, you just put the apostrophe, like so: “Thomas’ car had to be towed from the living room.”
      2: Missing letter in a contraction (or if you are typing in a dialect). One teacher told me to think of it as the footprint of the letter that went away, and that has stuck with me. So “do not” becomes “don’t”, “can not” becomes “can’t”, “you all” for some odd reason becomes “y’all”. I’ve never quite figured out how to make “y’all” possessive: “We’re coming over to y’all’s house later.” just looks completely wrong. For the dialect bit, since I’m southern I drop letters from a lot of words, so when I talk, it looks like this: “I sure hope you’re gettin’ the picture here, ’cause typin’ on this laptop really sucks.” Yes, that looks clunky as hell, which is why you never use that in formal situations.
      Hope that helped!

  29. I am a total ellipsis whore. I was absolutely shocked when I discovered I wasn’t spreading my dots correctly. I totally rock the sentence spacing rule though. And I am addicted to grammar books as well—on my shelf now: Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

  30. Woman, I just hugged, high-fived, and fist-bumped you. (Virtually, that is.) You just keep singing the gospel. Please. You got an Amen right here.

    As a professional editor for 15 years, I have YET to have a client I don’t have to educate about spacing after periods. And I’m telling you, the older they are, the more they fight back. I have had to put on my kind-yet-firm schoolmarm voice and wag a finger at CEOs twice my age whose lips start quivering when they tell me they just *cannot* bring themselves to cut back to one space after a period, because it’s what Sister Mary Geraldine taught them in grammar school.

    We must keep fighting the good fight. These posts are great.

    PS: Oxford comma all the way. -ML

  31. I’m very British and I love no comma more than The Oxford. I have been known to think bad thoughts about people who ignore it…sorry . . .

  32. That Stalin/JFK bit was some funny shit. I’d share with friends if I had any. Clicked on your “Facebook Page, I’m just saying” link and got Page Not Found . . . F. Y. I.

    • Oh, I hate that! Sorry for the hassle. I just recently changed my Facebook URL from “Bearded Iris” to “The Bearded Iris” to make my branding more consistent, and now I’m having to go back and find all my old links. Could you please tell me exactly where that link was so I can fix it? What post/page etc. Thanks Sandy! I appreciate all the help I can get. 🙂

  33. Oh I hate all these things I didn’t know. 2 spaces after period are as natural as breathing. And … (. . .) I never did figure out what you recommend. Do we go with Oxford, Harvard, or serial? Or Oxford, Harvard and not-serial?

    • Hi Jennie! I know, such a hard shift to make! I am a fan of Oxford/Harvard/serial (all the same thing, just different names). I always use it! However, every editor is different. I have a friend who writes for the Washington Post who says “too many commas kill a story.”

  34. I’ve always said that a properly placed comma (and capitalization) was the difference between “Helping your Uncle, Jack, off a horse”, and “Helping your uncle jack off a horse”. Personally, I’d rather do the first.
    I’ve actually been know to correct some of my friends when they text me. Those friends don’t text me much anymore.
    I’m SO happy that you posted this (and that I read it) because I had NO idea about the ellipses! I are gonna do so much gooder now! I’m also extremely excited that I got my “something new” for the day knocked out so early. I feel like I’ve already accomplished something major, and I’m still in my bathrobe.

  35. I’m sorry but I disagree with the dot-space-dot-space-dot thing. Type designers will custom-design ellipsis for each typeface, so if you’re typing for something that will be printed (not online/website/blog) hit option+semicolon to get an ellipsis (this is on a Mac, I don’t know the keystroke for a PC). If you’re working online, use the html code (remove the brackets and start with the & and end with the ;):
    […]
    The main problem with doing the dot-space-dot-space-dot you pointed out in your blog post, which is that the 3 dots could get broken up between lines (one or two at the end of one line, and then the next one/s on the next line). You mentioned trying to not have the ellipsis fall at the end of lines so this doesn’t happen, but you have no control over how the end-user has set up their browser default font size and that could really change the line length and where the ellipsis falls on the line.
    The other problem I see is that it spaces out the ellipsis too much. When I studied typeface design, one of the things we were taught was to not create “holes” in blocks of text. The dot-space-dot-space-dot method creates a big hole, which is a no-no in typography.

  36. shoot, the code for the ellipsis did not appear in the brackets, the ellipsis did:
    another attempt:
    -…-
    Remove the hyphens before the & and after the ; to create the code

  37. Arg!!! remove the hyphen after the &:
    &-hellip;

    • I’m so confused! I don’t understand what you’re trying to tell me. 🙁

      I agree with you about the risk of having an ellipsis broken over two lines and how that will look HORRIBLE. I’m just sharing what I learned in my book and what works for me, but I also know enough to make adjustments when I see that an ellipsis gets broken up. I think the most important thing here is that there should only be THREE dots. The spacing element is secondary in importance.

  38. I just absolutely love that there is an entire post and so many comments about commas and ellipses. Although I did know that this type of comma was controversial, I had no idea it is called the “Oxford comma.” I also did not realize its absence could create such a major faux pas. I can’t get used to using just one space after a period and I think this ages me. (At least my participles aren’t dangling). Thanks for the laughs and for creating a forum where commas and ellipses can be discussed at such length. I haven’t thought this much about ellipses since law school. Thanks again!!

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