Dash or Ellipsis

Since Monday is my day to blog as an editor, I decided to talk about something I’ve seen a lot of lately and which is frustrating me. When is it proper to use a dash or an ellipsis? What is the difference?

To make the answer more frustrating for me, I was recently at a presentation by a well-known, multi-published author who gave a partially wrong answer to this question. So here is what I know. Feel free to argue with me if you disagree.

A dash indicates a sudden or harsh interruption, especially in dialogue. An ellipsis indicates words left out of a quotation or a soft pause. That soft pause can be words trailing off in dialogue or a similar hesitation which is not abrupt.

But the problem I see with both is a vast overuse. Both should be used to make a distinct point in an author’s writing. When I see 27 dashes on one page of a manuscript or 16 ellipses on a single page, it becomes obvious the author is not using them to the best effect. My advice to authors is, please, choose carefully which one you want to use and use it to your best advantage.


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