Guest Post: Ask the Book Doctor

Grammar and usage information for the self-publishing writer

Q: I have been using ellipses to indicate hesitant speech in my dialogue. My critique-mate believes my use is incorrect and I should use double hyphens or a dash. I’ve found information to suggest that both uses are acceptable, but I prefer the ellipsis. What do you say?

A: It depends on what you write, but if you write books, follow the authority on the matter, which is Chicago Manual of Style, and it looks as though you win.

Chicago Style says that ellipsis points suggest faltering or fragmented speech accompanied by confusion, insecurity, or distress. “I . . . I . . . can’t believe it; can it be . . . is it really you?”

The dash, or two hyphens, with no space before or after, indicates an interruption or an abrupt change in thought. The following example indicates that someone interrupted the speaker: “I’d like to say—” The following shows a change in thought: “I’ll take the flounder—no, make that salmon.”


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Bobbie Christmas, book editor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at http://www.zebraeditor.com

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