I am a little confused and need some help in clearing things up. In writing dialogue and the speaker pauses how do you show this. Now, from my understanding you use ellipses(...). If this is true, how are they used? A space after the last word with the last word being "going" ("We are going ...but I think,") or no space after the last word but space before the next word ("We are going... but I think,") or no spaces before and after the last and first words? ("We are going...but I think,")


To answer your question, it'll be something like this: "... I said, but I wouldn't." Then, the next person says, "Sure, but why?" It'll be best to use a comma unless you're trying to demonstrate that the person speaking is drawling out a specific word. Only use ellipses when your speaker is drawling a certain word.

  • So how does one write a person pausing to think before speaking? For examples, "You know," he looks up as if he thinks for a second, "I think you are right." vs "You know... think you are right."
    – Alex
    Jan 30 '20 at 23:24

This is called aposiopesis. And you can use either the em-dash — or ellipsis. There seems to be no real agreement on the proper use. I generally use ellipsis with space after but not before but having one both after and before is recommended by some.

That said, if you want to show someone paused, you usually should just say it. Strictly speaking apart from few specific uses ellipsis simply means that the sentence was not completed, it does not specify if there was a pause in speech beyond the normal short one between sentences. It is also misleading if the sentence is completed but after a pause.

The em-dash might fit you better since "self-interruption" is one of its uses, unlike with ellipsis. "I believe I shall—no, I'm going to do it." is example Wikipedia gives which sounds lot like what you want to me.


If you're writing for yourself, you can do whatever makes sense to you, as long as you're consistent with it.

Personally I do this:

  • Ellipses are for when someone's speech trails off (for sudden interruptions, I use an em-dash).
  • I use the Unicode character "…", with no space before, and one space after.

I write everything in plaintext, then let the software (in my case, pandoc) do the conversion to nice-looking Unicode characters. Any WYSIWYG word processor worth their sal— I mean, bytes, can smarten punctuation on the fly, or let you insert special characters.

I've seen some old texts on Project Gutenberg that put spaces between dots, or even use more than three dots, such as (made-up example):

Yes, do that . . . . please.

Also, in Japanese media, using long runs of dots is common to indicate pauses.

If you're writing to get published, take a look at the style guide that your editor uses.

For example, the Chicago Manual Of Style prefers three dots, and requires non-breaking spaces to be put between them (but allows the single-character Unicode version too), while New Hart's Rules prefer the single-character (source: https://www.liminalpages.com/ellipsis-spaces-dots).

But ultimately, (ibid.)

[B]oth are correct!

And, in regards to spacing before/after the ellipsis, (ibid.)

Should there be a space before and after the ellipsis, though … like this? Or should there be no space…like this? Again, it’s a style decision. Either is fine, as long as you’re consistent.

Being consistent is key, so that you make your editor's life easier, and they can replace all occurrences of ellipses with a single command.

I use no space before the ellipses, so that they don't get broken apart, and you end up with just ellipses at the beginning of the line -- you always have at least one word preceding them -- and one space after, for consistency with commas and periods.

And in regards to spacing if you use separate dots (ibid.):

Keep in mind, too, that it’s important the dots always appear on the same line, so make sure you’re either using a single glyph or non-breaking spaces.

Again, non-breaking spaces are a pain in WYSIWYG editors (it's not immediately apparent they're different than normal spaces), so I just prefer the single-character ellipsis.

  • +1 Good practical advice. On the Project Gutenberg using a space before: In older text ellipsis was used to signal an omitted word as in "23 ... Street". In such use you need a space before it, if the word it replaces would need one. And of course this resulted in the space being added when not strictly needed because habits. Mar 1 '20 at 22:46

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.