Grammar Rule #2: ELLIPSIS POINTS are not interchangeable with DASHES.
· In dialogue, ellipses show faltering speech, usually due to confusion or uncertainty, while dashes show sudden breaks, such as interruptions or abrupt changes in thought.
“I . . . I . . . I don’t know if I’m coming or not.”
“I said—in fact, I already told you—I’m not coming.”
“Leave me alone or I might . . .” (voice trails off)
“Leave me alone or I might—” (abrupt stop of speech)
“Will she . . . um, can she? . . . do this?”
“Will she—can she?—do this?” (more assertive)
Notice how the choice between using dashes or ellipses sets up a visual signal to the reader on how to “hear” the dialogue.
· Similarly, in informal writing, the writer can use ellipses and dashes at a more casual level to give tone to her communication.
So . . . what are you doing today?
I’m going shopping—nothing exciting, just groceries—and wondered if you wanted to meet for coffee.
Go ahead . . . scream at me.
Go ahead—scream at me!
· Our next punctuation lesson (May 21) will teach more about the dash. I know . . . go ahead—salivate!
Grammar Challenge: Your Turn! Punctuate each pair of sentences with ellipsis points and dashes to show a contrast of uncertainty and assertiveness.
1. I’m pretty sure I know what I’m doing.
2. I’m pretty sure I know what I’m doing.
3. Tomorrow I’m going fishing or maybe swimming.
4. Tomorrow I’m going fishing or maybe swimming.
5. Sam can’t at least not right now go with us.
6. Sam can’t at least not right now go with us.
To receive daily lessons by email, go to “Email address . . . Submit” at the top of this page and enter your information.
1. I’m . . . pretty sure . . . I know what I’m doing. (one possibility)
2. I’m pretty sure—I know what I’m doing. (one possibility)
3. Tomorrow I’m going . . . fishing . . . or maybe . . . swimming. (one possibility)
4. Tomorrow I’m going fishing—or maybe swimming. (one possibility)
5. Sam can’t . . . at least . . . not right now . . . go with us. (one possibility)
6. Sam can’t—at least not right now—go with us. (one possibility)