Using an elipsis . . . in quotations

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A reader asks about the use of an elipsis:

Do I capitalize the first letter of the word at it is the beginning of the quoted sentence even though it is the middle of the sentence in the original format? (the h of her)
“. . . her intellect was geared to her hymen, not her brain” (Welter 156).

Let’s start with what an ellipsis is.

An ellipsis is the three dots that indicate something has been left out of a quotation. Depending on the style, you may have a space before and after the ellipsis.

The opposite of the ellipsis is the square bracket [ ]. These are used to show where you have inserted words (or changed words/letters).

Chicago, MLA and APA styles all use a space between the periods: three periods for words missing within a sentence and four periods (the first indicates the end of the sentence) for words missing between sentences (APA 6.08; MLA use, Purdue OWL). Be careful: MS Word will automatically change three consecutive periods into an ellipsis character. However, if you are publishing your essay, an editor will change it back as part of the editing process if you specify the style.

It’s rare to use an ellipsis at the beginning or end of a quotation because clearly you are only citing a very short part of something and there must be more before and after the passage quoted.

Chicago Manual of Style is explicit: “Ellipsis points are normally not used (1) before the first word of a quotation, even if the beginning of the original sentence has been omitted; or (2) after the last word of a quotation, even if the end of the original sentence has been omitted, unless the sentence as quoted is deliberately incomplete” (13.50).

In this question, the original did not have a capital because it was in the middle of a sentence. The only reason we would need a capital here would be if it is the beginning of a sentence in the essay citing it. In this case, we could use a capital enclosed in square brackets: “[H]er intellect. . .” It would be better to use an introductory clause so the original grammar and capitalization would remain intact. In fact, it’s always best to try to construct your writing so as not to need to make changes to the passage you are citing.

On the other hand, the passage being cited may begin a sentence and begin with a capital. In this case, you would probably want to format the paragraph so the capital is kept. If you must insert the passage into another sentence, use a lower case with square brackets.
In the question posed, the quotation could be structured thus:
Welter suggests women were not capable of rational thought when she writes, “her intellect was geared to her hymen, not her brain” (Welter 156).
Here’s an awkward way to write it with a capital:
“[H]er intellect was geared to her hymen, not her brain” (Welter 156), although clearly Welter’s own intellect contradicted this opinion.
I really appreciate people who ask grammar questions like this. I learned a lot by researching the ellipsis.

1 thought on “Using an elipsis . . . in quotations

  1. Pingback: Ellipsis: when shorter is better – Blog

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