Peeve of the Day: Dashes vs. Ellipses

There are two ways to end a line of dialogue that isn’t meant to stand as a complete sentence.  One is with a dash, the other is with ellipses (those three spaced dots, remember?)

They aren’t interchangeable.

Ellipses are for utterances that trail off in some manner:

“Well,” she said, “if that’s what you really want . . . .” (That’s the ellipses, plus a period.)

“Well . . . if that’s what you really want, I suppose it’ll have to do.”  (That’s just the ellipses, showing how the speaker lets his or her voice trail off into a significant pause before going on to the rest of the sentence.

Dashes are for utterances that are broken off or are interrupted:

“I told you I wanted–”

“I know what you told me, but the store was all out of them.”


“And the winner is–”

(Drum roll.)

“Anastasia Oddfellow of East Drumstick, New Jersey!”

Got it?  Good.

5 thoughts on “Peeve of the Day: Dashes vs. Ellipses

    1. I stand (well, actually, sit) corrected.

      It’s one of those pesky words with plural items, like those dots, lurking inside a singular noun — and one that ends in -s, to boot. The mind will keep trying to make it plural.

      Which is why I’m a line-editor and a content editor, not a copyeditor. (Spell-check keeps trying to make “copyeditor” into two words, but one of the best copyeditors I know maintains that it is one word, no hyphen, and who am I to argue?)

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