At long last, this five-part ellipses series is coming to a close with a discussion on how to use ellipsis points to create pauses and disruptions in dialogue.
Use Ellipses to Indicate a Pause in the Middle of a Line of Dialogue
General Rule: Ellipses in the middle of a line of dialogue indicate that the speaker stopped talking momentarily.1
“Do you know of any good places to hike around the Illinois Valley?” he asked.
“Hmm, let me think . . . the best place around here is Starved Rock State Park,” I said.
Use Ellipses to Indicate a Disruption at the End of a Line of Dialogue
General Rule: Ellipses at the end of a line of dialogue indicate that the speaker faltered before completing his or her statement.2
“Is there anything else to do around there?” he asked.
“You can also hike at Buffalo Rock State Park,” I said. “Matthiessen State Park, the I&M Canal trail, eat pizza at Bianchi’s, eat pork tenderloin sandwiches at the Igloo . . .”
“In other words, there’s ample hiking and a lot of places to eat,” he said.
A Few Things to Consider When Using Ellipses in Dialogue
Avoid ellipses overload. The appearance of too many ellipses can diminish their impact. So, save the ellipses for those times when you really need to emphasize a dialogue disruption. Remember that em dashes can also be used to signal dialogue interruptions.3
Reserve ellipses for the middle and end of dialogue lines. Ellipses aren’t typically used at the start of a line of dialogue. If you need to indicate that the speaker faltered before speaking, do so through descriptive text before or after the dialogue.
Maintain consistent ellipses spacing. Follow your primary style guide, house style guide, or publisher’s guidelines when deciding how to space ellipsis points. If you’re not following a specific guide, choose one format to maintain consistency throughout your document. Two common formats are
- equally spaced points with one space before and after each set (i.e., “Hello . . . there”) or
- unspaced points with one space before and after each set (i.e., “Hello … there”).
Consistent point spacing is also important for ellipses in quotations; however, the guidelines for quotations are more specific because ellipses serve more functions in quotations than in dialogue. The first four parts of this series describe a variety of ways to use ellipses in quotations.
1. The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 13.41.
2. The Chicago Manual of Style, 13.41.
3. The Chicago Manual of Style, 6.87.