The ellipsis is … abused and misunderstood

Here’s how to use one of the most mysterious forms of punctuation.

Here’s how to use one of the most mysterious forms of punctuation

These days it seems ellipses are the default punctuation.

How often in e-mails do you briefly wonder what punctuation is appropriate, and then opt for those three mysterious dots instead? Indeed, ellipsis abuse is rampant in e-mails; in most cases the writer is using the “…” in error.

Don’t believe me? Google “ellipsis, abuse” and behold the myriad forums and blogs on the topic, complete with examples. Better yet, scroll through your e-mail account and see these abuses for yourself.

“Most people who use ellipses in e-mail overdo it—a lot,” Mignon Fogarty, author of book Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, wrote on her blog Grammar Girl. “You should not replace all normal punctuation with ellipses. You should not allow the sweet lure of ellipses to muddle your ability to write a complete sentence.”

In fact, the ellipsis has only three purposes. One is a very specific and somewhat common purpose, another has a more novel intent and the third a slightly vague purpose. So why do some people use it so much?

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