Ellipsis at the Beginning of a Quotation

By Michael Kandel

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.

Way 1.

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.

Way 2.

In your essay:

Fielding tells us, “[A] certain schoolmaster . . . at her earnest desire, instructed [Jenny Jones] 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.

Way 3.

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.

Work Cited

Fielding, Henry. The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. Bartleby.com, 2001, www.bartleby.com/ebook/adobe/301.pdf.

Published 19 September 2017

3 comments on “Ellipsis at the Beginning of a Quotation”

  1. 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.

    Helaine

  2. 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 While I know that edition is a bit outdated, has a change been made in later editions?

    • 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.

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