Ellipses are 3 spaced dots (. . .) generally used to indicate omission of 1 or more words, lines, paragraphs, or data from quoted material (this omission being the ellipsis). Excerpts from the following paragraph will be used to demonstrate the use of ellipses.
Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916) was a Danish artist best known for his somber, haunting interior scenes. A master of understatement, his best works are small interiors, often devoid of people. When human beings do appear, they often have their backs turned to the viewer and are apparently self-absorbed. Hammershøi’s art transformed his apartment into a continuum of unsettling empty spaces where time seems suspended; his works are not still life paintings but are intended to convey a mood, often a melancholy stillness. He does so by limiting his palette to umber, sienna, brown, black, and white and by excluding warmer tones. Hammershøi’s works are not naturalistic but, instead, reflect a mental climate without vitality and seem to speak to the loneliness and isolation of the individual.6
8.8.1 Omission Within a Sentence.
If the ellipsis occurs within a sentence, ellipses represent the omission.
When human beings do appear, they . . . are apparently self-absorbed.
In some such instances, additional punctuation may be used on either side of the ellipses if it helps the sense of the sentence or better shows the omission.
Hammershøi’s works are not naturalistic but, instead,. . . seem to speak to the loneliness and isolation of the individual.
If the quotation itself contains ellipses, to make clear that the ellipses were part of the original a note to this effect should be included in brackets.
8.8.2 Omission at the End of a Sentence or Between Complete Sentences.
If the ellipsis occurs at the end of a complete sentence or between 2 complete sentences, ellipses follow the final punctuation mark, the final punctuation mark being set close to the word preceding it, even when this word is not the final word in that sentence in the original.
Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916) was a Danish artist best known for his somber, haunting interior scenes. . . . Hammershøi’s art transformed his apartment into a continuum of unsettling empty spaces where time seems suspended. . . .
8.8.3 Grammatically Incomplete Expressions.
The sentence within which an ellipsis occurs should be a grammatically complete expression. However, ellipses with no period may be used at the end of a sentence fragment to indicate that it is purposely grammatically incomplete.
Complete the sentence “When I retire, I plan to . . . ” in 20 words or less.
8.8.4 Omissions in Verse.
Use 1 line of em-spaced dots to indicate omission of a full line or several consecutive lines of verse.
Sometimes you say it’s smaller. Today
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
you said it was a touch larger, and would change.
Marc Straus, MD, “Autumn”
8.8.5 Omissions Between or at the Start of Paragraphs.
With material in which several paragraphs are being quoted and omissions of full paragraphs occur, a period and ellipses at the end of the paragraph preceding the omitted material are sufficient to indicate this omission.
Indeed, it is no more than the just desert of Dr Theodore Schott and his late brother to attribute to them the credit of having introduced and elaborated a method capable of restoring most cases of heart disease to a state of complete compensation, after the failure of other means, such as digitalis. . . .
If the initial word(s) or the first sentence of the paragraph being quoted is omitted, begin that paragraph with a paragraph indention and ellipses to indicate that this is not the beginning of that paragraph.
. . . it is no more than the just desert of Dr Theodore Schott and his late brother to attribute to them the credit of having introduced and elaborated a method capable of restoring most cases of heart disease to a state of complete compensation, after the failure of other means, such as digitalis. . . .
8.8.6 Change in Capitalization.
The first word after the end punctuation mark and the ellipses should use the original capitalization, particularly in legal and scholarly documents. This facilitates finding the material in the original source and avoids any change of meaning. If a change in the original capitalization is made, brackets should be used around the letter in question (see 22.214.171.124, Brackets, Insertions in Quotations, and 8.6.1, Quotation Marks, Quotations).
[H]e shows a stark, rectangular grid lit by centers of rounded forms, brilliantly colored.
In the cover story, the artist is described as using “[v]ivid oranges, reds, and purples, light greens, creamy violets, and color-flecked gold” to depict “a traditional subject.”
8.8.7 Omission of Ellipses.
Ellipses are not necessary at the beginning and end of a quotation if the quoted material is a complete sentence from the original.
In a 2016 The Art of JAMA piece, Jeanette M. Smith, MD, wrote, “In Evening, a woman who has witnessed the ebb and flow of many seasons sits in peaceful repose by a window.”
Omit ellipses within a quotation when the omitted words occur at the same place as a bracketed editorial insertion (see 126.96.36.199, Brackets, Insertions in Quotations).
“[Caillebotte] shows a stark, rectangular grid lit by centers of rounded forms, brilliantly colored.”
When a quoted phrase is an incomplete sentence, readers understand that something precedes and follows; therefore, ellipses are not used.
In Place de L’Europe on a Rainy Day, Caillebotte does not use “centers of rounded forms, brilliantly colored” but instead uses muted grays and purples to give the feel of the rain.
Ellipses are generally not needed when the first part of the sentence is deleted.
Here Caillebotte “depicts a traditional subject in a manner far removed from the traditional. . . .”
8.8.8 Avoidance of Ellipses in Tables.
In tables, to avoid ambiguity, ellipses should not be used to indicate that no data were available or that a specific category of data is not applicable. Indicators such as NA (not available) or NR (not reported) should be used instead. Blank cells in a table also should be avoided unless the column heading does not apply to the entry or unless the entire section of the table does not contain data (see 188.8.131.52, Table Components, Field).
Principal Author: Cheryl Iverson, MA
Thanks to the following for reviewing and providing substantial comments to improve the manuscript: Kevin Brown, JAMA Network; Barbara Gastel, MD, MPH, Texas A&M University, College City; Carissa A. Gilman, MA, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Georgia; Hope J. Lafferty, AM, ELS, Hope J. Lafferty Communications, Marfa, Texas; Trevor Lane, MA, DPhil, Edanz Group, Fukuoka, Japan; Peter J. Olson, ELS, Sheridan Journal Services, Waterbury, Vermont; and Nicki Snoblin, NextWord Communications, Lake Bluff, Illinois.
1.Truss L. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. Gotham Books; 2003:201.
2.Norris M. Holy writ: learning to love the house style. New Yorker. February 23 and March 2, 2015:78-90.
3.Shields C. Invention. In: Dressing Up for the Carnival. Penguin Putnam; 2000:151.
4.Ball P. The Unauthorized Biography of a Local Doctor: Or From Infancy Through Puberty and On to Senility. Exponent Publishers; 1993.
5.Behrman R, Kleigman R. Nelson’s Essentials of Pediatrics. WB Saunders; 1990.
6.Harris JC. Interior. With Piano and Woman in Black (Strandgade 30): Vilhelm Hammershøi. JAMA Psychiatry. 2013;70(8):774-775. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry. 2013.1999