Student Success

Sentence Interrupters: Types, Uses, and Common Mistakes


Ellipses . . .

“Ellipsis” is singular, while “ellipses” is plural.              

In academic writing, using an ellipsis is a way to indicate the omission of words or a purposefully incomplete thought in a quote. In more informal writing, an ellipsis can be used to indicate a pause or to add emphasis by setting off material. (Ex: “The Thebans great sin . . . resides in his failure to uphold the code of chivalry” (Curtis 214).) (Ex: How do you make the best hard boiled eggs, you might ask? . . . I will tell you!)

Since the use of an ellipsis to indicate a pause or to set off material in a sentence is often considered too informal for academic writing, a good alternative is the em dash.

A single space should be inserted between all points of an ellipsis. ( . . .)

When ending a grammatically complete sentence with an ellipsis, make sure to still include the closing period (it will end up looking like four dots instead of the usual three). (Ex: Andy was confused about why April asked him such a question, but he was pretty sure he should agree, so he said, “Yes . . . .”)

Put a single space before and after an ellipsis if omitting words in the middle of a quoted sentence. (Ex: “A quote will begin like this . . . and then, you can skip over any unimportant parts in order to focus your quote on what matters without it being too long.”)

In block quotes, when omitting a full line in quoted poetry or drama, insert a full line worth of spaced dots. Ex:

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.

The bright sun was extinguish'd, and the stars

Did wander darkling in the eternal space,

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

And men forgot their passions in the dread

Of this their desolation; and all hearts

Were chill'd into a selfish prayer for light

(Lord Byron, “Darkness”)

Due to their use in quoted material, ellipses may be spaced or punctuated differently based on which format one is using (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.). This handout offers a couple of examples of format specifications, but it is by no means exhaustive. See a full formatting guide for specifics (some resources for further reading will be listed at the end of the handout).

Some MLA Specifications: When indicating an omission from a quote, some writers prefer bracketing the ellipsis to clarify that the ellipsis did not exist in the original text, but brackets are not required for MLA formatting. (Ex: “This quote begins this way [. . .] and ends this way.")              

Some Chicago Specifications: While Chicago appears more encouraging of the use of brackets when adding an ellipsis to a text whose original already contains ellipses, the format does recommend adding a parenthetical note explaining such a decision after the quote.

Punctuation when using brackets while quoting multiple sentences: When omitting words at the end of a quoted sentence, insert a single space preceding the bracketed ellipsis and place closing punctuation directly after the final bracket if quoting additional lines. (Ex: “Beginning of a sentence […]. Beginning of subsequent sentence.”)

When quoting a full sentence and then omitting words at the beginning of a second sentence, insert the bracketed ellipsis one single space after the first sentence’s closing punctuation. Insert one single space after the bracketed ellipsis and before the second line of quoted material. (Ex: “First sentence. […] second sentence.”)

Some APA Specifications: When omitting words between two sentences, insert four spaced dots between the lines. Insert a single space after the ellipsis, but no space before it (the first dot will function as a period at the end of the first sentence). (Ex: “This is a quoted sentence. . . . And this is another.”)

Parentheses (…)

Similar to the em dash, parentheses can be used to set off information within a sentence. Set off material need not be grammatically related to the surrounding text.

Parentheses can be used to add a gloss or translation of unfamiliar or foreign terms. Glosses or translations within quoted material should use brackets (explained later). (Ex: The narrator of The Knight’s Tale frequently uses occupatio (a rhetorical device where one lists all of the things that one will not be describing in a story, essentially describing them).)

Parentheses can enclose numerals or letters marking divisions in lists or sublevels in outlines. (Ex: The monkey (a) has a prehensile tail, (b) has apposable thumbs, and (c) is super cute.)

Although placing parentheses within parentheses is sometimes acceptable in certain formats, for clarity’s sake, a good alternative is to use dashes to set information off within parentheses. In bibliographies, Chicago prefers brackets within parentheses.

Parenthetical material can contain punctuation marks—such as closing quotation marks, periods, question marks, and exclamation points—if the marks complete the parenthetical material (i.e., if the parenthetical material contains a complete sentence, it may end in a period). All punctuation within the parentheses pertains to the parenthetical material only, while all punctuation outside of the parentheses pertains to the surrounding sentence. Therefore, when the last thing in a sentence is the parenthetical material, the closing punctuation for that sentence will appear after the closing parenthesis. Since the parentheses themselves set off the enclosed material, there is no need to put a comma or any other punctuation before parenthetical material that occurs at the end of a sentence. Ex: Tea comes in a wide variety of types and flavors (black, green, Ceylon, rooibos, herbal, etc.).

Brackets […]

Brackets often indicate when someone other than the original writer inserts material into a text or quoted material. Brackets can be used to expand or explain part of a text, to correct or replace words in quoted material to fit within the grammatical structure of the surrounding text, or to translate or gloss foreign or unfamiliar words within quoted material.

As stated before, Chicago formatting prefers the use of brackets within parentheses (as opposed to parentheses within parentheses), especially in bibliographies.

Brackets can also be used to enclose phonetic transcriptions of an unfamiliar word in order to aid readers in pronunciation. (Ex: When do you pronounce route [rut] versus route [raʊt]?)

As for punctuation, in general, brackets can be punctuated the same way as parentheses (i.e. the material inside the brackets is punctuated independent of the surrounding text, and vice versa). However, due to bracket’s tendency to adjust grammatical structures in quoted material, in such situations, brackets are more closely tied to the grammatical structures of the surrounding text than are parentheses.  (Ex: At his birthday party, Bilbo tells his relatives that “[he doesn’t] know half of [them] half as well as [he] should like.”)

Angle Brackets <…>

Angle brackets are sometimes used to set off URLs or email addresses. However, while acceptable in emails and similar messages, Chicago formatting discourages such use within other writing.

Otherwise, these brackets are usually reserved for use by manuscript editors, with certain markup languages, or in textual studies to indicate missing or illegible material.

Braces {…}

Braces are not an equivalent for brackets or parentheses. They are reserved for use in mathematics, certain programming languages, or other specialized writing.

Em dashes —

Em dashes are used to indicate a break or pause, to set off information such as lists, or to add emphasis. Set off material need not be grammatically related to the surrounding text. They create a stronger effect than commas and appear more formal than ellipses.

It is called an em dash because it is the length of the letter m (using the letter name—em—rather than the letter itself).

Do not confuse an em dash with a hyphen. Em dashes can be used throughout a sentence, but hyphens are almost solely used in compound words (explanation to follow).

Do not put any spaces before or after em dashes. (Ex: My little brother—a big know-it-all—offered to help me proof my senior English paper.)

Em dashes (and en dashes) can usually be found in a word document under the “insert” tab and then in “symbols.”

En dashes –

While nearly identical to a hyphen, en dashes are the length of the letter n and include their own list of rules and specifications.

The en dash is used between numbers (such as dates, years, scores, and page numbers) to indicate “to,” “up to,” “through,” etc. (Ex: The months of November–January contain a lot of holidays.)

The en dash can also indicate “to” in destinations. (Ex: the Belton–Temple bus arrives at three o’clock)

It can add clarity when used in place of a hyphen for compound adjectives that include combinations of proper nouns, open compounds, or hyphenated compounds (see explanation of compounds below). (Ex:  The post–World War I years marked a time of increasing disillusionment about the romanticism of war.)

However, the addition of a single word or prefix to a hyphenated compound should be accomplished with another hyphen, not an en dash. (Ex: the three-year-old child’s name is Amy.)


Hyphens –

Compound Words

Types: Open compound—spaced like two words

Hyphenated compound—two or more words connected with a hyphen

Closed, or solid compound—no space between the words, looks like a single word

Permanent compound—standardized and accepted, can be found in the dictionary

Temporary compound—combination of words for a one-time purpose, may be standardized someday, but is not found in dictionary yet


There is a general trend over time to make commonly used compounds into closed compounds.

Hyphens often help prevent ambiguity by linking words (Ex: many-layered cakes. The cakes have many layers, but there are not many cakes that also happen to be layered)

Hyphens also help distinguish words that might otherwise be misread (Ex: re-creation, as opposed to recreation)

 Hyphens add clarity to compound modifiers before nouns. (Ex:  near-abandoned room). While hyphenating compound modifiers before nouns is never wrong, hyphenating such modifiers that come after nouns is usually unnecessary.

Hyphens are unnecessary in compound modifiers made of adverbs ending in ly because the ly ending signals the link to the following modifier. (Ex: largely unnecessary)

When omitting the second half of a compound in a series (hyphenated or closed), the hyphen remains. (Ex: two- and four-year colleges)

When no corresponding example can be found in style books or dictionaries, hyphenate only if it adds clarity to the reading (i.e. prevents misreading, aids in pronunciation, or eliminates ambiguity).

Other Uses of Hyphens

Hyphens are also used to separate numerical sequences (ISBNs, phone numbers, social security numbers, etc.).

They are also used to separate letters to indicate when a word is being spelled out (Ex: “The dog’s name is spelled f-a-w-k-e-s.”).




Resources Used:

Gibaldi, Joseph. "Basics of Scholarly Writing: Punctuation." MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing. 3rd ed. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2008. 85-98. Print.

Jones, Karalyn. "Using Ellipsis in APA Style." UHV Student Success Center. University of Houston-Victoria Academic Center, Sept. 2007. Web. 5 Apr. 2016.

"Punctuation." The Chicago Manual of Style. 16th ed. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2010. 305-48. Print.

Purdue OWL staff. “MLA Formatting Quotations.” The Purdue OWL Family of Sites. The Writing Lab and OWL at Purdue and Purdue U, 18 Nov. 2014. Web. 5 Apr. 2016.

"Spelling, Distinctive Treatment of Words, and Compounds: Compounds and Hyphenation." The Chicago Manual of Style. 16th ed. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2010. 372-384. Print.


Material quoted in examples:

Curtis, III, Carl C. "Biblical Analogy And Secondary Allegory In Chaucer's The Knight's Tale." Christianity & Literature 57.2 (2008): 207-222. Ac

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