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What punctuation should be used when words are omitted from a direct quotation?

Dot com. Dot org. Dot edu. Dots abound. One purpose a dot serves is to separate information into easily-interpreted units: a website name from its extension, dollars from cents, or one idea from another in written text. Almost everyone is familiar with the dot placed at the end of a sentence—that everyday form of punctuation known as a period. A less common punctuation mark, often used in academic writing, is a series of three dots called ellipsis points.

How are ellipsis points used?

Ellipsis points are used to represent an omission from a direct quotation when it is cited by another writer. This series of three dots—with a space before, after, and between them ( . . . )—is inserted where a word, phrase, sentence (or more) is left out.

How should ellipsis points be spaced within a sentence?

When an omission is made from within a direct quotation, ellipsis points take the place of the omitted text. A space should appear between each of the three dots, as well as before and after the ellipsis. One of the most common ellipsis point usage errors is to omit the required spaces.

Let’s take a look at an example:

Original direct quotation:

“[D]riving is not as automatic as one might think; in fact, it imposes a heavy procedural workload on cognition that, especially in difficult driving conditions, leaves little processing capacity available for other tasks” (Salvucci and Taatgen 107). [1]

Quotation with ellipsis points used correctly:

“[D]riving is not as automatic as one might think; in fact, it imposes a heavy procedural workload on cognition that . . . leaves little processing capacity available for other tasks” (Salvucci and Taatgen 107).

Note: All of the required spaces have been included in this example.

Quotation with ellipsis points used incorrectly:

“Driving is not as automatic as one might think; in fact, it imposes a heavy procedural workload on cognition that...leaves little processing capacity available for other tasks” (Salvucci and Taatgen 107).

Note: All of the required spaces have been incorrectly omitted in this example.

How should ellipsis points be spaced for an omission after a sentence?

When a word, a phrase, or a sentence (or more) is deleted after a complete sentence within a direct quotation, the ellipsis points are inserted after the sentence’s ending punctuation. Two units of punctuation appear; one is the sentence’s ending punctuation and the other is the ellipsis points.

Let’s take a look at an example:

Original direct quotation:

“It is widely acknowledged that today’s drivers do more than just drive. Whether the distraction arises from built-in ‘infotainment’ systems or from portable electronic devices brought into the vehicle, drivers have a wide array of nondriving tasks available to them at any given time” (Salvucci and Taatgen 67).

Quotation with ellipsis points used correctly:

“It is widely acknowledged that today’s drivers do more than just drive. . . . [D]rivers have a wide array of nondriving tasks available to them at any given time” (Salvucci and Taatgen 67).

Note: The ending punctuation is followed by the three ellipsis points in this example.

Quotation with ellipsis points used incorrectly:

“It is widely acknowledged that today’s drivers do more than just drive . . .  [D]rivers have a wide array of nondriving tasks available to them at any given time” (Salvucci and Taatgen 67).

Note: The ending punctuation for the first sentence has been incorrectly left out.

FYI: Do not begin or end a direct quotation with ellipsis points (except in rare instances). The reader already assumes that the quote has been excerpted from a larger work.

A word of caution: Ellipses may not be used to alter the quotation in a way that inaccurately or unfairly represents the original text, either in meaning or grammatical construction. Quite simply, do not use ellipses to make a quote say something other than what the author originally intended.

Ellipsis Point Usage: Quick View

Do: Don't:
Insert one space between each of the three ellipsis points. Use ellipsis points at the beginning or end of a direct quotation (except in rare instances).
Insert a space before and after the ellipsis points. Use ellipses to make a quote say something other than what the author originally intended.
Include the sentence's ending punctuation followed by the ellipsis points when the dots are inserted after a complete sentence. Leave out the spaces before and after the ellipsis points or between them.

For additional information on ellipses, see also:


[1] Salvucci, Dario D., and Niels A. Taatgen. Multitasking Mind. Oxford UP, 2011. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 20 February 2012.