You have more than one way to indicate that your quotation does not begin at the start of the sentence you are quoting. I can think of three.
Suppose the full sentence from which your quotation is taken is from Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones:
My reader may please to remember he hath been informed that Jenny Jones had lived some years with a certain schoolmaster, who had, at her earnest desire, instructed her in Latin, in which, to do justice to her genius, she had so improved herself, that she was become a better scholar than her master.
In your essay:
Fielding’s Jenny Jones “lived some years with a certain schoolmaster, who had, at her earnest desire, instructed her in Latin.”
Because “lived,” the first word of your quotation, is lowercased, it is evident that Fielding’s sentence does not begin with it. Ellipsis is not needed.
In your essay:
Fielding tells us, “[A] certain schoolmaster . . . at [the] earnest desire [of Jenny Jones], instructed her in Latin, in which, to do justice to her genius, she had so improved herself, that she was become a better scholar than her master.”
The square brackets around the capitalized indefinite article make it clear that in the original text “a” is lowercased and that therefore the sentence does not begin with it.
In your essay:
Fielding tells us, “. . . Jenny Jones had lived some years with a certain schoolmaster, who had, at her earnest desire, instructed her in Latin.”
The ellipsis indicates that “Jenny,” although capitalized, does not begin Fielding’s sentence. Here ellipsis is needed.
Fielding, Henry. The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. Bartleby.com, 2001, www.bartleby.com/ebook/adobe/301.pdf.
Helaine Rampley 25 September 2017 AT 03:09 PM
This is very interesting; if I'd heard of it before I must have forgotten it. It is something that I can pass on to my tutors as well as students.
Brian Bratt 25 September 2017 AT 04:09 PM
I'm a bit confused by the third example. My college English professors told me I should never use ellipsis at the beginning of a quote. I looked in my sixth edition and saw no mention of ellipsis at the beginning of a quote. While I know that edition is a bit outdated, has a change been made in later editions?
Jennifer A. Rappaport 26 September 2017 AT 05:09 PM
Great question. Page 81 of the handbook says, "If the fact that you omitted material from a sentence or series of sentences is not obvious, you must mark the omission with ellipsis points, or three spaced periods." The handbook does not, however, provide an example of when you might need to insert an ellipsis at the beginning of a quotation, because instances when you would need to do so are rare. The post shows a rare instance.
Alyssa Y. 06 February 2022 AT 08:02 PM
I was taught to never include ellipsis to start or end a quote because the assumption is you are always quoting a part of the text. I’ve googled and a bunch of universities agree with this rule. You mention that Way 3 is rare, but as an English teacher, my students use that type of quote blend quite often. Can you explain why Way 3 is rare? Am I missing a nuance? It just seems to me the quote’s meaning doesn’t change whether or not you include ellipsis to start it. Thanks!
John Schroeder 05 April 2019 AT 05:04 PM
This is not about the main subject of this post, per se, but in your second example, would it not be much clearer to write it: “[A] certain schoolmaster . . . at [Jenny Jones'] earnest desire, instructed her in Latin, in which, to do justice to her genius, she had so improved herself, that she was become a better scholar than her master.” Given that the ellipsis in this case omits the original mention of the subject (Jenny Jones), it seems clearest to indicate it in its first appearance in the quoted material. As written, it seems ambiguous whose earnest desire prompted the instruction - Jenny's, or the schoolmaster's. With more context, this might not be an issue, but it still strikes me as odd to wait until the second use of the pronoun in the quoted material to replace it for clarity.
Jennifer A. Rappaport 08 April 2019 AT 02:04 PM
Great point. We have revised the second example but with a slight variation so that "her" in "instructed her" has a suitable antecedent.
Susan Cutsforth 12 July 2020 AT 07:07 PM
I have checked quite extensively online but can't find what I want.
If dialogue starts with ellipsis, is there a space after the speech mark, or, is it speech mark, then ellipsis, no space?
Thanks a lot! Susan
Jennifer A. Rappaport 13 July 2020 AT 06:07 AM
Thanks for your question. There is no space between the opening quotation mark and the start of the ellipsis.
Cathy 10 February 2021 AT 04:02 AM
Going off of Susan's question of the dialogue starting with an ellipsis, should there be a space after the ellipsis and the first word?
"... he went
Thank you so much for your help.
Jennifer A. Rappaport 10 February 2021 AT 08:02 AM
Thanks for your question, Cathy. There should be a space between the ellipsis and the first word. Please see the example in "Way 3." There is a space between the opening ellipsis and "Jenny Jones."
Steve Monk 05 March 2021 AT 06:03 PM
Meta-question: do we have to show that a quote isn't a complete sentence? The use of brackets and ellipses seems clunky.
And when ellipses come at the end of a quote for the same reason—to show that the quote is not the complete sentence—it looks a lot like the original quote is trailing off...
Angela Gibson 08 March 2021 AT 11:03 AM
Yes, MLA style indicates when full sentences are excised from quotations that use ellipses by adding a period (sometimes called the "four dot ellipsis" method). This is covered in the MLA Handbook.
Paula Kirkland 23 March 2023 AT 02:03 PM
I am confused! In MLA Style is it ok to begin a direct quote with an ellipsis? or not?
We are using MLA edition 8 for our papers.
Thank you for your help.
Join the Conversation
We invite you to comment on this post and exchange ideas with other site visitors. Comments are moderated and subject to terms of service.
If you have a question for the MLA's editors, submit it to Ask the MLA!