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When Should I Use Ellipses? Never.

Yesterday I led a business writing class for a group of sales managers and other sales professionals near Portland, Oregon. As in other classes, these questions came up: "What about dot dot dot? When should I use that?"

The answer: Never.

Well, almost never.

These days business messages are filled with dot dot dots, whose official name is ellipses. People are using ellipses to pause, shift gears, trail off, and figure out what to write next. Unfortunately, none of those uses inspires confidence in readers, who wonder what the writer is doing. Does the pause mean something ominous? 

Just yesterday I received an email from someone who was worried about what the ellipsis after his name in an email might mean. He wrote, "I am trying to discern the tone of the email and the use of the ellipsis following my name." The email he had received began something like this:

David . . . thank you for offering a suggestion about the new incentive program.  

Why did the person who wrote to David (not his real name) use an ellipsis? My guess is that the writer had simply developed the bad habit of sprinkling ellipses here and there in his writing.

David wanted to know when an ellipsis is appropriate following a greeting. The answer: Never.

Yes, I admit there are appropriate uses of ellipses when quoting. I have written about those uses in the post
"Using . . . Ellipses," which you will find here. But for sales managers and everyone else who does normal business writing without the use of extended quotations, an ellipsis is never the solution. Don't waste a moment worrying about them.

Syntax Training

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

10 comments on “When Should I Use Ellipses? Never.”

  • The other thing that more and more work emails seemed to be littered with is exclamation marks. It might occasionally be acceptable to use one, but an email full of them,quickly loses any impact.

  • I use an ellipsis when sending an IM message to mean “I am not finished with my comment yet.” It’s a handy piece of punctuation for IM, because the person on the other end of the IM has no way of knowing if I am done with my comment simply because I stop typing. Without a piece of punctuation to pause the conversation, IM messages from the sender and the receiver often overlap, resulting in confusion.

  • I’m a little late reading this post but I am so glad you wrote it. We have someone in our office who uses an ellipsis at the end of every sentence instead of a period. His emails drive me insane!

  • I found myself at times using the … and thought nothing of it. However, after I began receiving messages loaded with them, it did not take long for me to stop to using the…’s

  • Of note, if an ellipse is used, it should never be broken at the end of a line as you did in your example. Additionally, the ellipse should always stand alone ” … ” vs “John…” when used in a sentence. Knowing when and how to use the ellipse may make one more accustomed to using it.

  • Hi, JayC. Thanks for providing those rules. If you click on the link for “Using . . . Ellipses” in the post above, you will see that I covered those rules in the other post.

    Thank you for the nudge to fix the incorrect line break. I just fixed it.


  • Thanks for the informative post Lynn, we have an employee in our office that starts ALL his emails with ellipses. I think he is undermining his intelligence and the professional nature of our company when he sends emails to our customers. Unfortunately he didn’t respond well to being corrected proving he is stupid and not just ignorant.

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