In this segment of Copyediting with Keli I’m discussing how to punctuate faltering speech when it’s used in dialogue.
The ellipsis is used to indicate faltering or fragmented speech.
This punctuation mark is made of three spaced periods, or, if you want to be precise and impress your friends, suspension points.
According to the Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition), a space is generally used on either side of an ellipsis. This varies from publishing house to publishing house, though. Your editor can let you know your house’s preference.
My house doesn’t use a space before or after an ellipsis, so I’m not using them in my examples. My best advice is whatever you use—spaces or no spaces—be consistent.
Here’s an example of faltering speech using the ellipsis:
“I. . .I regret to inform you. . . No, the company regrets to inform you that we’re downsizing and your position’s been eliminated.”
Note: there’s a space after the second ellipsis. This is because a new sentence was started.
If a character speaks a full line of dialogue—a complete sentence—but leaves that thought trailing off, a period would be used after the ellipsis.
Here’s an example:
“I want to accept the new job offer, but there’s so much to consider. . ..”
Note that if a dialogue tag is had been used after the ellipsis indicating faltering speech, a comma would have followed the ellipsis.
Faltering speech can add to our stories, and now you know how to use the ellipsis to punctuate it.