The ellipsis is … abused and misunderstood

How to use one of the most mysterious forms of punctuation.

These days it seems ellipses are the default punctuation.

How often in emails do you briefly wonder what punctuation is appropriate, and then opt for those three mysterious dots instead? Indeed, ellipsis abuse is rampant in emails; in most cases the writer is using the “…” in error.

Don’t believe me? Google “ellipsis, abuse” and behold the myriad forums and blogs on the topic, complete with examples. Better yet, scroll through your email account and see these abuses for yourself.

“Most people who use ellipses in email overdo it—a lot,” Mignon Fogarty, author of book Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, wrote on her blog Grammar Girl. “You should not replace all normal punctuation with ellipses. You should not allow the sweet lure of ellipses to muddle your ability to write a complete sentence.”

In fact, the ellipsis has only three purposes. One is a very specific and somewhat common purpose, another has a more novel intent and the third a slightly vague purpose. So why do some people use it so much?

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