Elements of Style

Ellipsis and Dashes

The hyphen (and a misspelling)

Some people may not know what the ellipsis and dash are—or know and don’t use them. That’s fine. However, these punctuation marks are more elements to store in your arsenal for professional writing. Used correctly, those “in the know” will recognize that you took time for that extra step in professionalism.

In my family we called my brother-in-law the grammar police. Sometimes loved ones may get a bit persnickety about an issue. But in writing, that is welcome.

Ellipsis (aka dot dot dot) may be used in a few ways. The two most widely used applications are for removing non-essential words and to show pause or thinking. FYI — the plural is ellipses.

There are always three dots. ( … ) Write your words, space, then dot dot dot, then space, and carry on writing.


For pause:

Trina was wondering what Bentley wanted … oh yes, his toys.

Trina is always wondering what Bentley needs. . . !

      (the first dot is the period)

It may sometimes look like four dots. (above) If you end a sentence with an exclamation point or a question mark, including an ellipsis, it would look like this for Chicago Manual Style because it uses a space in between:  dot, space, dot, space, dot, space.  (. . . )

Removal of non-essential words: (word, phrase, line or paragraph)

Prior to ellipsis:

  Trina went to the store to look for toys for Bentley, found several she liked and compared the pricing, but purchased a bag of biscuits instead.


  Trina went to the store to look for toys for Bentley … but purchased a bag of biscuits instead.

Dashes — Em dash, En dash, and Hyphen

EmThe em is the longest dash – the width of an “M” in typesetter days. Writers often use a hyphen for a dash, but that’s where the em and en arrive. In Word go to: Insert, Symbols, Special Characters. An em dash is used for: emphasis, pronouncing, in place of parentheses, or to cause a strong break in the structure of the sentence.

    Trina has owned six dogs—Bentley was a rescue at age 4—but he is her first Yorkie.

En–The en is the middle-length dash, “N” width, used mainly for periods in time and defining pages. It means through.

           Trina has owned dogs from 1988–present. Please read pages 6–50.

Hyphen – (above the P on your keyboard). It’s no special character—and people use it incorrectly—but is commonly used for compound adjectives. (notice the em dash above)

    Bentley is a Yorkie-Poodle mix. He has tan-silver hair.

  He lives in a split-level house.

Although you may still want to be lazy and use the hyphen, using these correctly may catch the eye of someone who knows these applications, and it will add credibility to your written piece.       

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