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Punctuation Rules for Ellipses and Braces in Written English

Punctuation is a convention of writing that helps writers and readers more clearly understand written language. There are four rules for using ellipses and braces as punctuation marks in written American English:

  1. Mark omissions
  2. Indicate pauses and interruptions
  3. Denote numeric sets
  4. Indicate equal choices

Ellipses to Mark Omissions

EllipsisUse an ellipsis to mark an omission in a quotation. Use three periods within the same sentence. Use four periods between sentences. For example:

  • President Franklin Roosevelt addressed America, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941…the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by…the Empire of Japan.”
  • As Jane Austen wrote in Pride and Prejudice: “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least….it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.”
  • “Engineering,” said Herbert Hoover, “is a great profession. There is the satisfaction of watching a figment of the imagination emerge through the aid of science to a plan on paper….it elevates the standard of living and adds to the comforts of life. This is the engineer’s high privilege.”

Generally do not place a space before or after the ellipsis that marks and omission.

Ellipses to Indicate Pauses and Interruptions

Use an ellipsis to indicate a pause or an interruption in speech. For example:

  • “Would you like to…go out with me this weekend?” the shy boy asked.
  • The little girl said, “I…I…I need to…to go to the bathroom…right now!”
  • “Please be careful with the….”

Generally do not place a space before or after the ellipsis that indicates a pause or an interruption.

Braces to Denote Numeric Sets

BracesUse a set of braces to denote a numeric set. For example:

  • {1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64}
  • {1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11}
  • {1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9}

Braces to Indicate Choices

Use a set of braces to indicate a set of equal choices. For example:

  • Select your color {red, blue, yellow, white}, and continue to the second station.
  • After choosing your main dish {steak, roast chicken, boiled fish}, choose a grain.
  • Pick an alcoholic {wine, beer} or a nonalcoholic {tea, soda, coffee} beverage.

Punctuation marks are a convention of written language that make reading and writing more understandable for readers and writers. Ellipses and braces perform four basic functions in written American English: mark omissions, indicate pauses and interruption, denote numeric sets, and indicate equal choices.

References

Faigley, Lester. 2003. The Brief Penguin Handbook. New York: Pearson Longman.
Gibaldi, Joseph. 2003. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 6th ed. New York: The Modern Language Association of America.

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