Ellipses are probably among the top ten most common punctuation marks used in genre fiction. In many of the books that I’ve seen they indicate a trailing off, pause or falter in the character’s train of through or dialogue.
Example: “I just thought … ”
“He said you might be amenable … ”
Easy enough. Just three little periods mushed together and voila. But no, it isn’t that simple. Depending on which site you hit up and the grammar guru they’ve consulted and footnoted, the rules seem to change. Sometimes there’s three and sometimes there’s four and sometimes there can never be four… Yada, yada, yada.
So to stop my head from exploding, I checked the first ten sites, compared their references and am now setting forth how I’ll use them in the future, not because I doubt the sources but because these make the most sense to me.
Since the ellipses replace a word or words it will be separated by a space on either side but not between the three periods
Example: “I wanted to be there but you know how it is. First, the kids, then the dishwasher acted up, and … .”
Since the ellipsis is also treated as a word, I find it suits my analytical brain to add a space before the final punctuation of the sentence.
This would hold true if you are using an ellipsis in more traditional writing such as in a quote to show an omission of word(s).
Quote: “We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds and we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, … .”
Shortened quote: “We shall go on to the end, … we shall never surrender, … .”
Sir Winston Churchill, June 4, 1940
It is important to note that it is unethical to change the meaning of the quote by using ellipses and the period at the end of the sentence ends the sentence and shouldn’t be confused with a four period ellipsis.