The ellipsis seems to be one of the most alluring punctuation symbols, and I see it misused everywhere. From student papers to billboards to everyday e-mails and chat logs, the ellipsis is tossed in willy-nilly and often extends to four, five, or even six dots.

I have to tell you, an extended ellipsis is just a bunch of dots.

The ellipsis—three consecutive dots—serves some specific purposes in writing.

If used correctly, an ellipsis can be quite effective, if not, it can be downright confusing.

Some of the right ways to use an ellipsis include… (see that, it works!):

1. The intentional omission of words

All employers must honor the minimum wage requirement….

The original sentence read:

All employers must honor the minimum wage requirement or risk paying a fine.

2. A pause in speech

I think I just got an… interview!

3. An unfinished thought

Now, where on earth did I put that…?

4. A sentence that trails into silence

I thought you might say that….

Pay special attention to an ellipsis that ends a sentence. It is the only time you should include four dots since the final dot serves as the period at the end of the sentence.

Stay tuned for a post about the correct use of the ellipsis in quoted sentences.