I admit to my own affair with the ellipsis (. . . ). My infatuation began as I sought moody, poetic punctuation and that seductive ellipsis is so fraught with meaning. Place it at the end of a clause and the reader becomes breathless.
What comes after this tense phrase? Who knows? You must read on . . .
The ellipsis and I broke up quickly during college. Professors, and later editors at publications, didn’t appreciate the rollercoaster ride from those three little dots.
I learned quickly. Say what you’re going to say. Then, move along to that next thought. (It’s a little like learning to walk in New York City after strolling through suburbs.)
In prose, the ellipsis creates a drag on the end of a phrase. Rather than leading you on to the next phrase, this particular punctuation weighs down the first part — hanging like a sigh.
The ellipsis creates drama, especially when you’re speaking to an under-40 audience.
The answer is a little bit trend and a little bit tech.
Does This Ellipsis Make Me Look Old?
Rebellion against the ellipsis is well-established for text, chat, and email. The pensive addition of those three dots mimics the prompt when someone is writing.
Send a message.
See three dots in the response while the other person is writing.
Enter a new circle of hell.
Most millennials and Gen Z’s describe the punctuation as anxiety-inducing for two reasons. First, it leaves a thought hanging. In an age of instant communication, the ellipsis implies that something else is coming. Younger readers don’t appreciate that visual and verbal tension.
Second, the ellipsis mirrors the Typing status on most chat tools. The Pavlovian effect of three dots is that of waiting on the edge of your seat.
We need to talk…
This is perceived as negative and intense — until it is followed by a lighter, pleasant phrase.
Ellipsis Has a Specific Tone
To communicate cross-generationally, writers should reconsider using the ellipsis in their sentences. When I’m editing for my clients, I often find them in the same places. Many people add them to headlines and subheads. I also find them in sentences at the end of a paragraph.
For younger readers, this adds a judgemental, lingering tone. Which is often the opposite of the writer’s intent.
In the article, Please…Don’t Use Ellipses In Your Text Messages Sam Blum points out,
Don’t make your reader parse the subtlety in your text messages. For most Millennials and members of Generation Z (and even some Gen X-ers), texting is a primary means of communication, even if it can be really tedious and impersonal. Replying “ok…” can leave a text reader feeling as if you’re leaving something unsaid. What, for example, is inferred by the three lingering dots that leave your sentence begging for finality?
Similarly, Paris Matineau tackles this topic in Why…do old people…text…like this….?An Investigation…saying,
However, the linguistic ellipsis could not be more different than the literal, which seems to — if anything — slow down both the writer and the reader as the three dots are used to replace any and all forms of punctuation.
On some level, it seems to be a way to say, This idea is not complete. One can’t always assume that age affects the speed of writing. But, older writers may be prone to at least re-read and edit what they write before hitting Send.
Overall, this vestigial grammatical moment has even harsher interpretation in articles and blog posts. Adding an ellipsis literally leaves your reader hanging.
Unless you want your reader to squirm, you will probably find that these phrases create the opposite of your intended effect.
why do….old…people use ellipses…..so….unnecessarily…what are..you trying to….say
— armadillo (@212dodge) February 8, 2018
The ellipsis creates tension, induces anxiety, and makes you seem like you’re about to start a lecture. Also, you’re probably not even using it correctly.
Ellipsis Has a Specific Grammatical Role
When I proofread for writers, I rarely see correct usage of an ellipsis. Those little dots are on the list of items that I actively search for (find + replace function) whenever I’m editing. Most of the time, writers place the ellipsis at the end of a thought where they hope to create a pause. However, a simple period and line break is both correct and easier to read.
Correct Use of Ellipsis
- In news writing and academic settings, the ellipsis is used to show that a quote is incomplete. When you lift a phrase from a thought, it shows where you omitted something. It’s often a way to abridge or clarify long source material.
- For creative prose, the ellipsis may convey a pause in the dialogue. It shows that the character’s words were cut off mid-thought.
- In creative writing, it may also be used to show a lingering thought. However, it should be used carefully.
If you are trying to join two thoughts, consider the following options.
- Coordinating Conjunctions include and, but, for, or, nor, so, and yet. You need to place a comma before the coordinating conjunction to join the thoughts.
- Independent Marker Words may be used at the beginning of an independent clause. They can begin a standalone sentence. Use a semicolon before the independent marker word if you are joining two clauses. Some examples are also, consequently, furthermore, however, moreover, and therefore.
- Subordinating conjunctions connect independent and dependent clauses. Examples include after, as, before, once, since, and until.
While punchy writing can break grammar rules, the ellipsis ages your writing. To younger audiences, it’s a boomer-ism — marking your language as outdated and out-of-touch. Next time, consider replacing those three dots with a different connector if you want to keep your language neutral and crisp.
- Ellipsis on Grammarly
- The Generation Gap In Online Punctuation: An Open Letter (And Revised Style Guide) To Digital English by Caleb Meby on Forbes
- Ellipsis on Grammarbook
- Why Do Boomers Text The Way they Do by Angela Lowe
- Ellipsis on The Punctuation Guide
- Ellipsis and emoji: How Age Affects Communication at Work by Meghan McCarty Carino at Marketplace
Write Like You Mean It
I am a writer first. As a freelance writer in Forest Virginia, I specialize in content-heavy websites, bringing together my 14 years of professional communication experience. I optimize small business websites for search and social media to generate more traffic — and more sales.
On my profiles, you’ll find creative inspiration for your small business. Whether you work a side hustle or run a full-time LLC, your online presence will benefit from my experience. My articles highlight advice and ideas to attract your niche audience.
Through Verderame, LLC. I offer my services to small businesses who need assistance with their websites, content, and search engine optimization.