Literacy Shorts: Ellipsis

Elliptical dots are used to indicate to the reader that words have been omitted from a sentence.  For example:

Mrs Kemp’s English lesson was … outstanding.

So, here, the three elliptical dots tell us that information has been purposefully removed.  We have no real way of telling whether or not the omitted information is important, but it’s usually safe to assume that it is directly related to the text that we do actually have.  To illustrate this point, here’s the full version:

Mrs Kemp’s English lesson was clearly outstanding and the standing ovation from 9b/E1 was well deserved.

See?  It’s surely unnecessary to actually specify that 9a/E3 gave Nicky a standing ovation.  I mean, that happens routinely.  Everyone knows that.  So, in this case, the elliptical dots are handy because they help to aid semantic efficiency.  Here’s another example from A Place of Greater Safety, by Hilary Mantel:

A Place of Greater Safety


Suddenly he understood how far the situation had moved on from last week … It will certainly be tonight, he thought.

At this stage of the novel, Mantel gives us an insight into the mind of enfant terrible Camille Desmoulins; he’s in a Parisian caf
é (the Café de Foy) on the 12th July 1789, and on the very cusp of addressing a large crowd of excitable onlookers.  Seconds later, he will urge them all to take up arms against King Louis XVI and they will roar their approval. Revolution is imminent: liberté, égalité, fraternité!  Exciting stuff, no doubt, but not as exciting as my calculated use of elliptical dots.  In the quote above, for the sake of brevity, they indicate that I have made the decision to purposefully remove part of the sentence.  In doing so, I’ve made a judgement that the quote, in its edited form, appropriately conveys the high-drama of situation.  Surely no need for the twelve other words.  Am I right?  Take a look a the full version below and make up your own mind.  The omitted words are in italics:

Suddenly he understood how far the situation had moved on from last week, from yesterday – how far it had moved in the last half-hour.  It will certainly be tonight, he thought.

Here’s one more example, this time from the play Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett (the elliptical dots are his, not mine):

Waiting for GodotVLADIMIR: I missed you… and at the same time I was
happy.  Isn’t that a queer thing?

ESTRAGON: (shocked) Happy?

VLADIMIR: Perhaps it’s not the right word.

The extract above is taken from the beginning the Act 2.  Vladimir and Estragon, who appear to be strangely and dysfunctionally interdependent, are waiting for a man called Godot.  Neither of them are really sure who Godot is or when he might actually arrive: it’s all very puzzling and frustrating.  Anyway, Vladimir, having temporarily left Estragon, arrives on stage again and reflects on how he felt at being alone.  T
he elliptical dots mark an ambiguous and uncomfortable silence: they indicate to us that Vladimir has conflicting thoughts.  He’s confused; still thinking.  He missed Estragon, and yet was happy (sort of) to be without him.  Estragon, understandably, is shocked; his insecurities, far from being allayed, are actually amplified by the vaguarities of his companion’s declaration.  Let’s just hope Godot turns up…  More next week.  Thanks for reading.

TL;DR: Elliptical dots are used to indicate to the reader that words have been omitted from a sentence.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *