Often used at the end of sentences, when trailing off and not finishing a thought... The three periods have also gained popularity as a feeling on the Internet as well, often being used to express annoyance.

For example:

Person 1: (enthusiastic) Hey, Person 2!
Person 2: (hesitant) Um, hi, Person 1...
Person 1: Wanna come over to my place later and see my collection of used tissues?
Person 2: ...
Person 1: (oblivious) Well, do ya?
Person 2: What do you think?
Person 1: Great! See you at 8!
Person 2: ...

The number of periods used varies from person to person, but usually number three or four.

At the end of a sentence, actually, one ought to, if one cares about being correct, put four periods. One period to indicate the end of a sentence, and three more periods to indicate the trailing off or not finishing a thought. Two examples follow.

"What do you want to do today?"
"Oh, I don't know...."

"What do you want to do today?"
"Oh, I don't know ... maybe I'll kick your ass."

In the first example, we the readers are to assume that the person answering did not give an answer to the question at hand. He or she said he or she did not know the answer, and stopped. In the second example, though, the respondant did give an answer, albeit belatedly. The ellipsis in his or her response lets us know that there was a pause before the answer was given.

The point is, if you want to put an ellipsis at the end of a sentence, you ought to put four periods.

Be silent, students, for we are about to embark on an exciting grammatical journey into the world of the ellipsis...

An ellipsis (pronounced e-lip-sis) refers to the omission of a portion of a phrase or a sentence. This is usually denoted by a series of three dots, like this... although such symbols aren't required.

The word ellipsis comes from Greek, meaning "falling short." This is appropriate because an ellipsis indicates that some structure has been left out. Take this conversation, for example, in which the omitted portions in the speech patterns of BlueDragon and tes are indicated in parentheses.

tes: Hey, BlueDragon. Where are you going?
BlueDragon: (I am going) To Alaska.
tes: Ah. When (are you leaving)?
BlueDragon: (I am leaving) Early next week.
tes: I see. Why (are you going to Alaska)?
BlueDragon: (I am going) To eat some baked Alaska.

A second usage of an ellipsis is often used when shortening a quote, indicating a pause in a quote, or other more complete thought in less casual conversation. Here are some examples.

"We are the champions ... of the world"
Timothy McVeigh was responsible for that...

In modern English, ellipses are used so often that they are often overlooked; they usually result in a grammatically incomplete sentence, but are often understood by the context. Here are two examples:

Bob and Tom ate cheese.
Bob (ate cheese) and Tom ate cheese.

Steve opened the beer and drank deeply.
Steve opened the beer and (Steve) drank (the beer) deeply.

QUIET IN THE BACK, QUIZRO! Now *ahem* we shall take a short grammatical history lesson into the origins of the ellipsis...

A Brief History of Ellipses
The ellipsis is first noted in Old Norse starting in about 200 BC, which is the first known written language to utilize the ellipsis. Often in Old Norse, writers would omit infinitive phrases and non-action verbs, which is the first known existence of such verbal omissions in written language. Old Norse was particularly well structured for this because the language was contextually very strong; writers and speakers were able to easily make it apparent what the subjects and objects were, meaning the verb became less important in many cases.

Old Norse, through its evolution, came to impact the Romantic languages greatly as a whole, so the use of the ellipsis is common throughout the European languages, including German, Italian, French, Spanish, and especially English.

BONES, NO PAPER WADS IN CLASS! Now attention, because this WILL be on the test, people! Now, where was I? Oh yes, how is the ellipsis used in literature?

Use of the ellipsis in literature
In English literature, some of the early adopters of the ellipsis were Emily Dickinson and William Shakespeare. The Bard was particularly keen on this literary device, using it to a very great extent during many of his tragedies and often confounding modern readers due to his early modern English stylings in conjunction with missing words.

Use of the ellipsis and elliptical construction are very widespread in modern literature. Writers tend to use the ellipsis for emphasis, mystery, complication, hesitation, and other aesthetic reasons, such as creating a sense of momentum in the progression of poetry or to create a sense of confusion and uneasiness.

While not exactly literature, newspaper reporting also makes great use of the ellipsis, although in their case it is often for the purpose of reducing word count so that articles can fit.

THAT'S ENOUGH, DONFREENUT! GO TO THE NURSE AND GET THAT PENCIL REMOVED FROM YOUR NOSE!! Now, onto our final topic, everybody's favorite, rhetoric!

Elliptical usage in rhetoric
Since the ellipsis is used for the purpose of deliberately obscuring parts of the language, the ellipsis becomes one of the hardest pieces of language to master. Often, new learners of English simply do not use the ellipsis while speaking, as it breaks many perceived rules of how the language works. This doesn't make the speaker wrong by any means, but it often makes the language sound very stilted when a native English speaker hears it. Those who have had scientific lectures given by non-native English speakers can often attest to this.

Another example of elliptical use in rhetoric is when ordering something. Conversational standards between a food server and a diner often exclude a great deal of words, with both parties cutting to the bare minimum of needed communication for time-related purposes.

That's all for today, class. And next time, Miss Pierce, please wait until AFTER class before dragging things to the killing room?

El*lip"sis (?), n.; pl. Ellipses (#). [L., fr. Gr. a leaving, defect, fr. to leave in fall short; in + to leave. See In, and Loan, and cf. Ellipse.]

1. Gram.

Omission; a figure of syntax, by which one or more words, which are obviously understood, are omitted; as, the virtues I admire, for, the virtues which I admire.

2. Geom.

An ellipse.

[Obs.]

 

© Webster 1913.

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