In this lesson, we will learn when and how to use ellipses, en dashes and em dashes. These can be used to indicate a pause or a break in text. Ellipses can also be used to indicate an omission of text.
Selecting the Right Punctuation
Should I use a comma, a colon, a semi-colon, an ellipsis, a dash, a hyphen, parentheses, brackets? The possibilities can seem endless. Understanding when to use the different punctuation marks is important, and, with a little practice, can be mastered. Punctuation not only gives clarity to the reader but also allows you to add emphasis to your writing. Today, we will focus on the ellipsis and the dash.
Ellipses are used to show an omission of information or a pause or break. When quoting something there is often unrelated information that would only distract from your main point, so we omit part of the text and put an ellipsis in its place. An ellipsis is three periods ( . . . ) with a space before and after each period. If it is at the end of a sentence, you still add a period, resulting in four dots ( . . . . ). Notice that there is a space after each point in the ellipsis, resulting in a space before the period. You may also have noticed already that ellipses is plural and ellipsis is singular.
Now that we know what ellipses are and how they are used, let's take a look at Colombia's national anthem (translated into English because this isn't Spanish class) to see how an ellipsis works when omitting text:
'Independence!' cries the American world;
The land of Columbus.
Is bathed in heroes' blood.
But this great beginning;
'The king is not sovereign,'
resounds, and those who suffer
bless their passion . . . .'
I omitted most of the anthem because the entire anthem was not necessary for you to read when learning about ellipses.
Now, let's look at an example of the ellipsis used to demonstrate a pause or break. This expresses that time elapsed between the information before and after the ellipsis or that the train of thought was cut off:
'I remember when I . . . what was I saying?'
'He thought, and thought . . . and thought some more and still had no answer.'
The en dash is longer than a hyphen and shorter than an em dash. En dashes are used to show a range of numbers, like 12-15, 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. and 1991-1993. En dashes are often confused with hyphens, which are used to combine two words, like check-in. Em dashes ( -- ) have multiple uses, often used to add emphasis or demonstrate an interruption (most word processors will correct automatically two hyphens into an em dash):
- Showing an interruption: The teacher began explaining yesterday's homework saying, 'The reason number two is--' when the fire alarm went off.
- Add emphasis at the end of a sentence: There is only one state song in Connecticut--Yankee Doodle Dandy.
- Add emphasis within a sentence. The information within the dashes typically is not about the subject: Christopher Columbus --with the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria-- sailed from Spain on August 3rd, 1492.
In this lesson, we used Christopher Columbus to help us learn how to appropriately use the ellipsis to show an omission, pause or break, and dashes to emphasize text in the middle or the end of a sentence or to show an interruption. We also differentiated between the en dash, which is used to show a range of numbers, and the hyphen, which is used for combining two words. Now you can begin to add these punctuation marks in your writing to add flavor and emphasis.
Once this lesson is finished, you should be able to:
- Explain the use of ellipses and dashes
- State the difference between an en dash and an em dash