Ellipsis and so forth…

Using three dots – an ellipsis – to mean “et cetera” isn’t normal English punctuation.

Dutch and other European languages often tag an ellipsis on at the end of a list of items to mean and so on, etc. or and so forth and so forth. However, dot-dot-dot is used in English:

  • when representing speech to show that someone’s words have faded out or been interrupted (or that their words are continuing, after an interruption)
  • in quotations or similar to show that something has been intentionally left out (in which case it’s usually in round or square brackets)

There are punctuation guides that insist that the dots in an ellipsis should have spaces between, or even on both sides too (leaving you also breaking the rules of how to punctuate parentheses when the ellipsis is inside them). This looks awful and I fail to see any justification for it.

Prevalence: moderate. Sometimes even as the last item in a bulleted list to show that the list is non-exhaustive. Don’t!
Frequency: moderate. Common in scientific writing in particular.
Native: no. Only if you’ve become rather assimilated into Euro-culture.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

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