The Horizontal Ellipsis

The typographic use of the horizontal ellipsis is so much a part of our everyday life that we rarely give it much thought - so common, but subtle, that most people would not know what we are about to discuss without an example. This article will explain the horizontal ellipsis, show how it can be used to enhance your documents, and briefly dicuss why the alternatives are downright user unfriendly.

Tina Holmboe

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. References
  3. Document Information

Introduction

We've all seen them - those three dots which occasionally trail off a sentence in a book ... a magazine article ... a newspaper. It's called the "horizontal ellipsis" and they are not realy dots, but rather a separate character in its own right.

In writing the ellipsis is used to indicate that words are omitted from the text, as well as suggesting pause, often in sections of conversation or speech. As such it transcend the border between design and structure. It can not, as we shall see, be replaced by dots.

Ellipsis in HTML and XHTML

The DTD for HTML, and ultimately XHTML, contains a definition for the horizontal ellipsis as a named entity - …, corresponding to the Unicode character at codepoint U+2026.

By using UTF-8 you can, given a keyboard and editor with the capability to do so, use the ellipsis directly. Otherwise you need to use … or …

Ellipsis in XML

The horizontal ellipsis is not part of the basic set of named entities in XML, which leave us with two options: use a numeric entity, …, or define a named one as follows:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE foo [
 <!ENTITY hellip "&#8230;">
]>

Your document goes here.
  

Which technique to use depends on the exact nature of your XML.

Styles of Use

Various style-guides have various recommendations when it comes to using the horizontal ellipsis, ranging from conservative to the downright ridiculus.

foo … bar foo&nbsp;&hellip;&nbsp;bar
foo … bar foo&thinsp;&hellip;&thinsp;bar
foo … bar foo&ensp;&hellip;&ensp;bar
foo … bar foo&emsp;&hellip;&emsp;bar

ellipsis at end of sentence? ellipsis vs dots in speech browsers?

Which, then, to use? Ultimately it is a matter of taste. The article author prefer to add a thin space between a word and the hellip, on both sides. This has the disadvantage of leaving the construction open to browser-added line wrapping, but on the other hand it looks far more readable given a supporting user-agent and an appropriate font.

The final choice is yours.

Accessibility Impact

As we mentioned in the introduction, the horizontal ellipsis transcend, to a certain degree, the separation between content and the layout of content. In the most common usage the three dots carry meaning: "something has been omitted from this text".

When, as some misguidedly recommend, the ellipsis is replaced and represented by three consecutive period (.) characters, this meaning is effectively lost. If read by a voice browser or screen reader, the result is even worse: without any reasonable means to tell an ellipsis from a series of periods, the output, in English, is typically "DOT DOT DOT".

Try to avoid using three periods in place of a proper horizontal ellipsis character.

References

Title Author Date
Extensible Markup Language Bray, Tim; Sperberg-McQueen, C. M. November 1996

Document Information

First published: 22nd of August 2008
Last update: 6th of October 2008
Prerequisite: None
Author: Tina Holmboe
Maintained by: Tina Holmboe