Please … Do Not Use Ellipsis in Text Messages.

I … have … a confession … to make: I think that when you stick ellipses into text, you inadvertently rob your message of any linear train of thought.

The written word has long been indebted to evolving styles and conventions, but if I can be a curmudgeon for a moment, never in history has the English vocabulary been dotted with dot by dot by dot to such an egregious degree. At the risk of sounding ageist, the truth remains that this is a quirk inherent in the oldest of us – a cohort that has grown and lived to adulthood without the convenience and curse of an all-encompassing Internet. But instead of humiliating boomers – or anyone else – who have not yet adapted their communication to the digital age, I hope this helps.

This is why your writing – and all the people who read it – deserve more than a few dots.

They give the impression that something is wrong.

Don’t force the reader to understand the intricacies of your text messages. For most millennials and Gen Z (and even some Gen X), text messaging is the primary means of communication, even if it can be really tedious and impersonal. Answering “ok …” can make the reader feel like you are leaving something unsaid. For example, what do the three remaining dots mean, which leave your proposal begging for finality?

Gretchen McCulloch, linguist and author of Because the Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language , recently clarified this very topic for USA Today .

In short, it all comes down to using space, which makes a big difference when speaking on any digital device. She told the newspaper that ellipses are much less awkward in handwritten letters, where normal transitions in thought and syntax are usually easier to decipher.

If you’re writing a letter or postcard to someone, you know that using a small punctuation mark is an effective way (using a space) to move from one thought to another.

But when it comes to digital media, ellipses are gradually being replaced by line breaks, which are a more direct way of moving from one thought to another. She sums it up by saying that “computer space is cheap and line breaks take the same amount of code as dot-dot-dot.”

This is a very specific grammatical convention.

Ellipses are not a point. Yes, technically it’s three dots, each separated by a full space. However, its actual function differs markedly from the old-fashioned point as it depends on the recording medium.

In fact, no ellipses are alike. Its use differs depending on the format, from novels and news writing to letters and other conversational media such as text messages.

As the grammar lovers from Your Dictionary explain , the three dots you can find in your inboxes are very misunderstood throughout:

The ellipsis , these three sequential dots that you often see in novels and news stories, are one of the most misunderstood punctuation marks in the English language. It is used indiscriminately in text messaging, instant messaging, and email, and social media websites and blogs have not helped curb this trend.

For example, when writing news stories (which we do here on Lifehacker), the ellipsis is meant to instill a greater sense of clarity in an otherwise obscure quote, omitting what doesn’t need to be said. It is used when a verbal quotation salad can be condensed to give the reader more clarity.

Using your dictionary example, this quote:

“We have determined positively, absolutely, without a doubt, drawing our conclusions from all available data, understanding the consequences of the recent wave of arson attacks, that this fire was accidental”

This quote becomes:

“We have definitively determined … that the fire was accidental.”

There is one more nuance in using ellipses. When used in novels or other books, they are intended to convey pauses in dialogue or narrative action. In other words, this rule engenders the first point: when using ellipses, it may seem like there is more to say, and that you may be hiding your real intent.

Too many ellipses are just hard to read

If … you … communicate … how … is … you … not … very … easy … to understand. This is perhaps the most common reason for removing ellipses from a text message.

Whether you are trying to reflect a slow trickle of your thoughts as they form into words, or if you somehow forgot that there is a space on the keyboard, remember that looking at such awkward grammar is enough to trigger a seizure. … The ellipsis is too specific to the grammatical convention to be used indefinitely. Plus, texts look better if you just use regular line breaks.


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