Ellipsis Examples (in literature & sentences)

What is Ellipsis?

Ellipsis means intentionally leaving out parts of a sentence or phrase. It’s like when you don’t say or write some words because you know the listener or reader will still get your meaning.

In writing, ellipsis is often shown as three dots (…), which tell you something’s been left out. Even with these missing words, the main idea is still clear. Ellipsis can add mystery, make people think or just make sentences shorter and clearer.

Function of Ellipsis in writing

An ellipsis allows for omission of text while also introducing texture, emotional subtext and anticipation depending on the context and intent of the writer or speaker. An ellipsis (…) has several main functions in writing:

Omission – It is used to indicate an intentional omission or removal of a word, phrase, line, paragraph, or more from a quoted passage to shorten it or focus on key parts.

Example: “To be or not…that is the question.”

Trailing off – It is used to signify faltering or fragmented speech, or a thought or sentence that trails off and is left incomplete. This could suggest nervousness, uncertainty, suspension, or being overcome with emotion.

Example: “When I saw him, I just…”

Pause or silence – It is used to convey a pause, silence, hesitation, or time lapse. This could build suspense, allow for reflection, or mimic natural speech patterns.

Example: “She carefully considered her words…and then responded.”

Continuity – In formal writing, it can also indicate the removal of citations or details that would repeat unnecessarily when the identity of the speaker or subject remains clear from context.

Example: “Maya Angelou was truly inspirational. Her writings have moved many people to tears…and have spread messages of hope and endurance.”

Ellipsis Examples in Sentences

  1. The night was silent, and in that silence…
  2. As the train departed, she waved goodbye and then…
  3. He opened the book, and his eyes widened because…
  4. Beyond the hills, where the sun sets…
  5. The cat sat by the window, staring intently at…
  6. She began to speak, paused, and then…
  7. The old man smiled, recalling those days when…
  8. They walked hand in hand, until they reached…
  9. Underneath the surface, something was moving, something…
  10. There was a knock at the door, followed by…
  11. The streets were empty, except for a lone figure who…
  12. In the mirror, her reflection seemed to whisper…
  13. The storm was over, but the aftermath left…
  14. In his dream, he flew over mountains and then suddenly…
Ellipsis Examples sentences
Ellipsis Examples sentences

Ellipsis Examples in literature

Example#1

“Macbeth” by William Shakespeare

“Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee. I have thee not, and yet I see thee still…”

In the soliloquy, Macbeth sees a vision of a dagger before him pointing toward his hand. He repeatedly uses the ellipsis (“…”) to convey his mental turmoil and fragmented psychological state. He contemplates about murdering King Duncan. The ellipsis suggests that he is speaking haltingly, as he struggles with his conscience and inner demons. They create a tense, ominous atmosphere and underscore the torment of his moral dilemma.

Example#2

“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

“You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you…”

The use of an ellipsis after ‘how ardently I admire and love you’ suggests that the declaration of love of Mr. Darcy to Elizabeth remains unfinished. Austen utilizes the ellipsis to build anticipation and leave the full content of Darcy’s admission temporarily unknown. This creates a cliffhanger effect, which allows the reader to speculate on his next words. The ellipses also convey an emotional tension implying that Darcy can struggle to properly articulate the depth of his feelings. The punctuation creates a suspenseful and romantic atmosphere. It emphasizes the significance of this climactic moment between the two characters.

Example#3

“The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway

“He looked across the sea and knew how alone he was now. But he could see the prisms in the deep dark water and the line stretching ahead and the strange things that happened at sea where…”

In this excerpt, an ellipsis is used at the end of a sentence to describe regarding Santiago looking out at the ocean. This punctuation conveys unspoken emotions and ideas. The excerpt first establishes that Santiago feels small and alone against the vast sea. Then, rather than finishing the description with a period, it trails off with an ellipsis. This suggests there are ineffable qualities and mysteries to the ocean’s splendor beyond literal description.

The open-ended punctuation allows readers to imagine what sublime sights Santiago has seen in his fishing travels. The ellipses elegantly imply the sea possesses beautiful, powerful and unknowable aspects, as if Santiago grasps meanings beyond words. Simultaneously, it shows the old fisherman feels connected through his experiences to this magnificent and ominous force of nature.

Example#4

“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past…”

The ending line of the novel encapsulates a major theme of the novel. The ellipsis at the end of the sentence creates an open and lingering feeling. It suggests the cycle described – of striving forward while being drawn back to the past – will continue indefinitely. This conveys the idea that the capacity for hope and the repeating nature of history/human experience transcend individual human lives. The ellipses make the line feel profound yet incomplete, mirroring the novel’s larger messages about the unattainability of dreams and essential mystery at the heart of life. It also parallels the storytelling, which flows from past to present. By trailing off, the line stays with the reader, symbolizing how we continue attempting to make sense of the past.

Example#5

“Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf

“She had the oddest sense of being herself invisible; unseen; unknown; there yet not there…”

The aforesaid line demonstrates the use of ellipses to convey a fragmented psychological state. Through the repetition of negative or indefinite words like “invisible,” “unseen,” “unknown,” and the contradiction of “there yet not there,” the excerpt suggests a speaker feeling disconnected, intangible, or lost. The ellipses at the end fade away, which emphasizes the ethereal quality of her described experience while also creating an air of mystery. This allows the readers to project their own interpretations onto the “odd sense” she feels. In this way, the ellipses aptly reflect her self-perception – amorphous and half-formed.

Example#6

“A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known…”

In the final line of the novel, Sydney Carton prepares for his execution. The repetition of ‘far, far better’ stresses his belief that sacrificing himself nobly is the most meaningful thing he has done with his life. The trailing ellipses suggest his looming death creating poignancy and a sense of eternal rest in contrast to his wasted past. However, the lack of finality also introduces ambiguity – does he feel at peace, or is there lingering regret? The ellipses allow the reader to project their own emotions and interpretations onto Carton’s final thoughts. This punctuation draws focus to his redemption while conveying lasting impact through an unresolved and fading ending that stays with the reader just as Carton’s sacrifice echoes through the novel’s resolution.

Example#7

“Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way…”

Here, the first clause makes a general statement that happy families share common traits. Rather than completing the second clause to clarify the contrast with unhappy families, the use of ellipsis allows this thought to trail off suggestively. This immediately pulls the reader in by creating ambiguity and anticipation about the unique nature of each family’s unhappiness. Additionally, the ellipsis establishes an overarching tone of melancholy and the ineffable sadness permeating the story. By never defining these distinct miseries, Tolstoy conveys the complexity of family relationships and hints at the depth of suffering that will unfold in the novel through specific, intricate character arcs.

Ellipsis Examples in literature
Ellipsis Examples in literature

Related Terms

Suspense

Suspense refers to a sense of anticipation or uncertainty. It keeps the readers engaged and eager to know what happens next. Ellipsis heightens the suspense by deliberately omitting key details and leaving sentences unfinished. The gaps created, allow readers’ imaginations to fill in possible outcomes and drawing them in more actively.

Stream of Consciousness

The stream of consciousness technique presents the continuous flow of character’s unedited thoughts and feelings without regard for narrative order or structure. Ellipsis helps portray the natural jumps and fragments in internal monologues. By indicating pauses and interruptions in the thought process, ellipsis mimics how consciousness actually operates – flowing rapidly between fragmented ideas and impressions. The interruptions enabled by ellipsis make stream of consciousness writing seem authentic.

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