Trailing Off and Splitting Words

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01Oct2009

Trailing Off and Splitting Words

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By Margie Wakeman Wells

languageThe Dash or the Ellipsis for Trailing Off

The use of the ellipsis to show trailing off has gained favor in many segments of the court reporting community. Many reporters express a desire to distinguish between a speaker who trails off and a speaker who is interrupted.

Though English calls for a dash for the sentence that does not get finished, it is acceptable to use an ellipsis to show trailing off.

Well, I intended to go with her to —
Well, I intended to go with her to…

The dash in English shows broken sentence structure, and it does not matter how the structure gets broken. It simply shows that a sentence did not get finished. Trailing off is one way of not finishing a sentence.

In English, ellipses are generally reserved for indicating that something has been left out that was included in the original, usually used inside of quotes; However, their use showing trailing off is supported by the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary.

Other options for trailing off — such as a dash followed by a period, a dash with the space in front of it omitted, a dash with an extra hyphen in it, et cetera — are to be avoided.

Well, I intended to go with her to —
Well, I intended to go with her to–
Well, I intended to go with her to —

RULE: When the word but is used before the trailing off, put no punctuation before but and a dash or an ellipsis after.

I had tried it before to no avail but —
I had tried it before to no avail but…
They intended to have a talk with him but —
They intended to have a talk with him but…

RULE: When the word so is used before the trailing off, put a semicolon or a period before so and a dash or an ellipsis after.

She didn’t really need the money; so —
She didn’t really need the money. So —
She didn’t really need the money; so…
She didn’t really need the money. So…
There were no more options for us; so —
There were no more options for us. So —
There were no more options for us; so…
There were no more options for us. So…

One Word or Two

To stay on your toes, take this quiz:

Choose the correct form of work in parentheses:

  1. I intend to do this (everyday/every day) this week.
  2. She does not need (anymore/any more) to do.
  3. I cannot see him (anyway/any way).
  4. We were (almost/all most) happy to do it for her.
  5. He did not see her for (awhile/a while) after that.
  6. It was not feasible from (thereon/there on).
  7. He was placed (overall/over all) other employees.
  8. It is (altogether/all together) too difficult.
  9. It has become an (everyday/every day) chore for him.
  10. I have the (overall/over all) responsibility.
  11. There is not (anyway/any way) to complete it.
  12. He does not intend to participate (anymore/any more).

ANSWER KEY

  1. every day
  2. any more
  3. anyway
  4. all most
  5. a while
  6. there on
  7. over all
  8. altogether
  9. everyday
  10. overall
  11. any way
  12. anymore

EXPLANATION

almost adverb: close to, nearly
all most “everyone very” — a pronoun, all, with an adverb, most, that will be followed by an adjective
altogether adverb: totally, completely, entirely
all together “everyone or everything in the same place,” all in a group — a pronoun, all, and an adjective, together
anymore adverb: from this point forward, no longer
any more anything left, anything additional — an adjective, any, modifying a pronoun, more
anyway adverb: in any case, no matter what
any way by any method, by any means — an adjective, any, modifying the noun, way
awhile adverb: an indefinite period of time
a while noun: an indefinite period of time; correct form as object of preposition or with ago and back;
can always be correct as two words (Why bother to ever choose one word?)
everyday adjective (used only directly in front of a noun): ordinary, routine, usual, customary
every day each individual day, each single day — an adjective, every, modifying a noun, day
overall complete, thorough, comprehensive
over all prepositional phrase: in charge of everybody
thereon adverb: on that, on that thing
there on both adverbs: from that point forward

Margie’s book on punctuating the transcript, Court Reporting: Bad Grammar/Good Punctuation, is being published by NCRA and will be out in the late fall.

© copyright 2009. The Electronic Magazine of the California Court Reporters Association. All rights reserved. Republished with written permission.

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