Faltering Dialogue Punctuated

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.

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About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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16 Responses to Faltering Dialogue Punctuated

  1. Kaitlin says:

    Oh heavens. Thank you! I have a question, though – what about interrupted dialogue? Would an ellipsis also be used, or a dash, indicating a cut off? For instance:

    “I understand what you’re saying, but-,”
    “No. I don’t think you understand at all.”

    Or something to that effect? I’m curious. ^_^ Thanks!

  2. Donna Pyle says:

    Thank you so much, Keli, for continuing to address punctuation know-hows. Commas are the biggest punctuation headache for me. If I write a sentence and then say it out loud, I add a comma where I naturally paused. Most times, it shouldn’t be there at all. Ugh!

  3. bethkvogt says:

    Ah, ellipses.
    Isn’t that a fun word to write or say?
    Thanks for pointing out the whole spacing issue surrounding ellipses, Keli, and the need to check both CMOS and your publisher’s preference.

  4. Fun stuff, Keli. I’m glad someone else enjoys grammar as much as I do!

  5. This is something I learned during line edits! My line editor explained how to use ellipses. Do you know MS Word formats them incorrectly?

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Katie, I read in the CMOS that we can use the Word version of the ellipsis and our publisher will replace them all with the correct “house” version. Haven’t checked that with my publisher, but I’m sure they’re used to seeing ellipses done many different ways. Who knew three little dots could be so complicated. 🙂

  6. cynthiaherron says:

    Keli, LOVE your vlogs! You’re a natural!

    Thanks for continuing to teach us those pesky grammatical things that we tend to forget or just plain don’t realize.

    Katie: I didn’t know that about MS Word!

  7. Cindy R. Wilson says:

    Hmmm, this is good to remember. I’ve definitely done it wrong a few times in my manuscript. I’ll check back here when I’m editing so if I send my manuscript off somewhere, it looks like I know what I’m doing 🙂 Thanks!

  8. Loree Huebner says:

    Thanks for addressing ellipsis and the space issues. Love your vlogs!

  9. Sherrinda says:

    Keli!!!! I hadn’t seen your vlogs! Oh my goodness, you are so cute! And you talk so well. I would sound like a country bumpkin with my Texas Twang. I doubt I’ll ever do a vlog.

    I use ellipses some in my manuscript, and I think I did them right, according to your vlog. 😉 Yay!

  10. Melanie Joy says:

    This is extremely helpful, Keli! Thanks!

  11. This is very helpful, Keli. I must admit, I tend to overuse the ellipsis. It’s just a great way to indicate that the character is uncertain or upset. Thanks for clarifying how the ellipses work.

  12. Keli, this is a helpful series and one that shows us the differences in grammar rules. I always put a space between elipses … if you know what I mean?

  13. I didn’t realize those extra periods were required at the end of the sentence. Thanks for educating as always, Keli! 🙂

  14. hmm. i’m with sarah. had no idea that you had to have that period at the end. love these posts, keli!

Comments are closed.