Section 3.4

Ellipses and Dashes in Email

In business email, the ellipsis (…) and dash are often used in nonstandard ways. One cause of their popularity is growing uncertainty about standard punctuation rules. Confronted with a pause they are unsure how to punctuate, many emailers gravitate towards the seemingly all-purpose ellipsis or dash.

The ellipsis and dash are not all-purpose punctuation, though; they have particular applications. For professional email, you should use them as they are meant to be used. Generally that means the ellipsis won’t show up much, as its primary purpose is to indicate missing words, as in quoted material. In more casual email, it is sometimes used to indicate a kind of auditory break, or hesitation, or a sense that something is being continued (Joe definitely won’t attend…it wouldn’t be productive), but these applications should be confined primarily to personal or informal email.

The dash is a relatively flexible piece of punctuation, but distribute your dashes with care! One reason to use a dash is for dramatic emphasis:

The storm damaged their truck, destroyed their store, and ruined much of their merchandise — but it could not diminish their entrepreneurial enthusiasm.

The dash can also set off parenthetical words and help ensure clarity. The following sentence could benefit from a pair of dashes.


Her colleague, a former teacher, and her sister attended the awards ceremony.

How many people attended the ceremony? It could be two, if the colleague is interpreted to be the former teacher, or it could be three, if the colleague and the former teacher are two different people. If they are not, though, a pair of dashes can resolve the confusion.


Her colleague — a former teacher — and her sister attended the awards ceremony.