The ellipsis is a series of three dots, or, under certain conditions, four. It is never five or six or any other number. In composition the principal function of the ellipsis is to mark the omission of material from a quotation.
If the deleted matter occurs within the quoted sentence, three dots are used:
Dante, someone has remarked, is "the last. . . great Catholic poet."
Notice the spacing: spaces are left between the preceding word and the first dot, between each dot and the next, and between the last dot and the following word.
If the omitted material includes the end of the sentence and/ or the beginning of the next one, four dots are used:
Dante, someone has noted, is "the last great Catholic poet. . . ."
With four dots the spacing is a little different. The first dot, which represents the period of the original statement, is not separated from the word it follows, but the spacing between dots remains. Notice too that the ellipsis is placed inside the quote mark.
If the original sentence from which the final words were dropped was closed by a query or exclamation point, the appropriate stop is placed immediately after the final word and is followed by a standard three-dot ellipsis:
It has been asked, "Was Dante the last great Catholic poet?. . ."
It is considered simple honesty to use an ellipsis to acknowledge that you have omitted something from a passage you are quoting. Of course, the omission must not change the substance of what the other writer said, and if you do alter his or her meaning, the use of an ellipsis will not save you from a charge of dishonesty. The same caution applies to adding explanatory matter within brackets: it must not substantially alter the original meaning.
The ellipsis is also used in dialogue to indicate doubt, indecision, weariness, and so on. In the following sentence, for example, the ellipsis signals not an omission of any words but the trailing off of the voice, suggesting the speaker's uncertainty:
She sighed and answered, "I really don't know "
Sometimes too a writer will use an ellipsis to imply a conclusion which readers are expected to infer for themselves:
And we certainly know what that remark means. . . .
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