Wait for It . . . Ellipses!

Contributor: Jennifer Blanchard. Lesson ID: 13661

Has an author ever left you hanging with a dot dot dot? Those dot dot dots (. . .) are called ellipses. Don't wait any longer! Find out exactly what they mean and how they are used.


Grammar, Reading

English / Language Arts
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Lion, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Dream Variations

  • What punctuation marks are used in this poem?
  • Do you see the dot-dot-dot (. . .) used a few times? Why?
  • Does this author just like periods and wants to add a bunch of them to his poetry?
  • Did he need to fill the space to make his writing look longer?

Keep reading to see what this is all about!

Understanding the intended meanings of authors when you are reading, and using them in your work can strengthen and improve your writing.

Look back at the different punctuation marks in the above poem excerpt.

  • Why are so many dots that look like periods used?

Well . . .

When three of those dots are grouped, it is called an ellipsis. Just like any other punctuation mark, ellipses are used intentionally for certain reasons.

  Purpose Other Useful Information
  Use ellipses when omitting (or leaving out) a word, phrase, line, paragraph, or more.
  • This can help to save space.
  • It can also help remove less relevant or important material.
  Use ellipses to show a trailing off of thought.
  • This can show hesitation.
  • It can also show suspense.
  • It can show a pause.


  • Did you notice in the information above that sometimes the word is spelled ellipsis with an -is and sometimes it is spelled ellipses with an -es?

Before going any further, look at the difference between ellipses and ellipses.

Ellipsis is singular and usually refers to one set of the three dots.

Ellipses are plural and is the word used to refer to the punctuation mark in general.

The initial example was ellipses used in poetry, but ellipses can be used in any writing. Look at some examples.

Here are some examples you might use in your writing.

Hamlet asked whether it was "nobler . . . to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles."

Jessica, can you, um . . . never mind, I forgot what I was thinking. But, do you think we could . . . ?

. . . Oh, it doesn't matter now.

Here are some examples of ellipses being used in actual literature.

I grow old . . . I grow old...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

~ from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot

"Well, Latimer, you taught me long," my father said . . ."

~ from The Lifted Veil by George Eliot

The vast flapping sheet flattened itself out, and each shove of the brush revealed fresh legs, hoops, horses, glistening reds and blues, beautifully smooth, until half the wall was covered with the advertisement of a circus; a hundred horsemen, twenty performing seals, lions, tigers . . . Craning forwards, for she was short-sighted, she read it out . . . “will visit this town,” she read.

~ from To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Take a look at the above examples again.

  • Where do authors use these things called ellipses?

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Ellipses can be used at the beginning of a sentence, in the middle of a sentence, and at the end of a sentence.

However, there is a rule that ONLY applies to when an ellipsis is used at the end of a sentence!

When you use an ellipsis at the end of a sentence, you still need to use an ending punctuation. For example, if you are asking a question.

Did I know his name . . . ? I could not remember.

If the sentence ends with a period, however, you would have four dots in that case. You would have an ellipsis (three dots) and a period (one dot). As some would say, dots for days!

Call me William . . . . He wrongfully called me Liam.

  • Do you think you've got this down?

Let's be sure!

Review everything you just learned while watching the video below.

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Head over to the Got It? section, and try it out!

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