Ellipsis versus Dash

Punctuation doesn’t make for scintillating conversation, but it’s hugely important for clear writing. In fact, we need punctuation to give order, direction, flow, emphasis, and even drama to our messages. Get the punctuation right, and your reader will follow you anywhere.

I first starting seeing ellipsis (. . .) used incorrectly when email became the written channel of choice. Perhaps because email is so fast, people just got into some bad habits. Too often I see email that ends with . . ., as if the message ends with the writer riding off into the sunset. . .

Ellipsis is used to alert the reader the something has been removed from quoted material or that there is more material than cited in the current writing.

Ellipsis is also used in dialogue to show the speaker has hesitated or faltered.

Perhaps authors decided to combine the two–use the dialogue ellipsis for hestitation in place of the narrative ellipsis for omission. But that’s just plain wrong.

What should you use to show pause in your narrative?

Use the em-dash (so-called because it’s the width of the letter m).  You don’t want to overuse the dash because it is startling and can lose its impact. However, it warns the reader of a change in pace or a break in thought (a pause).

Quick review: Ellipsis shows omission in narration and hesitation in dialogue. Dash shows break in narration.

I’ve seen many of the major publishing houses get this wrong and it reflects negatively on the author, the editor, and the publisher–and it’s such a simple thing, too.


1 Response to “Ellipsis versus Dash”

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