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Using Ellipses to Omit Words From a Quotation

Do you have a quotation that is too long and mostly meaningless? You can use an ellipsis—three consecutive periods, with one space around each ( . . . )—to leave out extra or unnecessary words. The ellipsis represents information that you are omitting from a quotation.

What to Remember . . .

When omitting words from quotations, remember to be fair to the author. Don’t use the quotation in a way that implies an alternate meaning from the one the author intended.

Let’s take a look at some examples that will show you . . .

Say you were reading “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau and you found that this sentence would be beneficial in your paper:

  • “I do not hesitate to say, that those who call themselves Abolitionists should at once effectually withdraw their support, both in person and property, from the government of Massachusetts, and not wait till they constitute a majority of one, before they suffer the right to prevail through them.”

You could use an ellipsis to omit words from the beginning of the sentence . . .

  • Thoreau feels, “. . . Abolitionists should at once effectually withdraw their support, both in person and property, from the government of Massachusetts, and not wait till they constitute a majority of one, before they suffer the right to prevail through them.”

. . . or to omit words from the middle of a sentence . . .

  • “I do not hesitate to say, that those who call themselves Abolitionists should at once effectually withdraw their support . . . from the government of Massachusetts, and not wait till they constitute a majority of one, before they suffer the right to prevail through them” Thoreau stated.

Using an ellipsis to omit words from the end of a sentence:

Thoreau writes, “I do not hesitate to say, that those who call themselves Abolitionists should at once effectually withdraw their support, both in person and property, from the government of Massachusetts, and not wait till they constitute a majority of one . . . .”

Notice that when using an ellipsis at the end of a sentence you must place a period after the ellipsis. When using a parenthetical notation at the end of a sentence, with an ellipsis, place a period after the citation. For example:

  • “. . . and not wait till they constitute a majority of one . . .” (Thoreau 20).

Quotation with an omission from the middle of one sentence to the end of another:

In order to signify that a sentence is missing, MLA (Modern Language Association) uses brackets to separate the ellipsis and the period that ends the sentence. For instance:

  • William L. Rivers notes, “Presidential control reached its zenith under Andrew [ . . . ]. For a time, the United States Telegraph and the Washington Globe were almost equally favored as party organs, and there were fifty-seven journalists on the government payroll” (7).

Omitting an entire sentence or more from a poem:

When removing an entire line from a poem, use a complete line of periods, or a series of ellipses, as shown below.

  • Elizabeth Bishop’s “In the Waiting Room” is rich in evocative detail:

    In Worcester, Massachusetts.
    I went with Aunt Consuelo
    to keep her dentist’s appointment
    ................................
    It was winter. It got dark
    early. (1-3, 6-7)

Prepared by Nathan Snyder 

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