Ellipses in Fansubbing

Article, Fansubs — By on March 22, 2012 5:51 am

This post was written by Dark_Sage. He is Dark_Sage.

Facebook Twitter YouTube   

Because three periods are better than none.

Okay, let’s have this talk.

The main problem with ellipses is that a lot of people don’t really understand how to use them in fansubbing. Almost all literature on ellipses is related to their use in scholarly works as a means of paring down lengthy quotes. Fucking useless to fansubbers. Luckily, I’m awesome, so I decided to make an article on the subject.

Just FYI for anyone wondering why the fuck I keep switching between the two words:

ellipsis = singular

ellipses = plural

Also an ellipsis


Table of Contents

Uno. Purpose

What’s the point of ellipses?

Dos. Possibilities & Standards

How are ellipses represented and what are the best practices for ellipsis usage?

Tres. Conclusion

I fucked your mother.


~Uno~ Purpose

Ellipses are extremely useful forms of punctuation in fansubs.

1. Ellipses indicate a meaningful pause in speech. “meaningful” is the key word here because speech has pauses of all sorts, differing in length and sentence positioning and having an ellipsis for every single pause would result in a script with more ellipses than words. No thanks.

2. Ellipses indicate trailing in or trailing out of speech. (Continuation between lines.)

3. Ellipses can be used to continue the thoughts of already finished lines.


I’ll go in-depth on each of these in the next part, but I felt it would be useful to set the tone for what’s to come.


~Dos~ Possibilities & Standards

Premises upon which the following arguments are based:

1. Ellipses should be used sparingly.

An overuse of ellipses will distract the viewer. This is a bad thing, quite obviously — subs should never distract or detract from the show.

2. An ellipsis is represented by “…” instead of “. . . “

Ellipses look hideous when the stops are separated by spaces. REALLY hideous. Luckily, fansubbers already chose the most sensible standard for ellipsis display.

3. When coming off a word, the ellipsis is “attached” to it.

Thank goodness that this is already a standard in fansubbing. Having to argue this point would require me to triple the size of this section.

4. Style manuals don’t know shit.

There is no real style manual for subbing. We can’t rely on outdated, antiquated rules which are intended for dry, academic writings. This is natural speech, which is an entirely different matter than those style guides ever prepared for. So don’t look to them for guidance.


Luckily ellipsis use is fairly standardized already. There’s not too much to argue, but I’ll go into each manner of ellipsis use and argue what the standard for it should be (bolded).

// indicates a new line.



I. Ellipses can be used to indicate a pause in a sentence.

1. That’s… not a good idea.

2. That’s…not a good idea.

3. That’s… Not a good idea.

4. That’s…Not a good idea.

Hopefully you can already see why 3 and 4 are wrong. This is all the same sentence and it’s even on the same line. There’s no reason why the first letter after an ellipsis would be capitalized, because that’s not how sentences work.

With 1 and 2 as the only debatable choices, the best option ends up being option 1. Think of the ellipsis in this case as a super comma. It doesn’t need to follow the natural flow of a sentence that a comma does. Instead, it enforces its own pauses, regardless of where they should fall in a “normal” sentence. Thinking of an ellipsis in these terms, it makes sense to envision the ellipsis as a comma (this comparison breaks down in other functions of the ellipsis as you’ll see later, but it makes perfect sense here). So what you get are “That’s, not a good idea.” vs. “That’s,not a good idea.”

Holy fucking shit does that second one look bad. So don’t do it like that. Option 1 is the best choice.


II. Trailing off and back in.

1. It’s almost as if you’re… // dead.

2. It’s almost as if you’re… // Dead.

3. It’s almost as if you’re… // …dead.

4. It’s almost as if you’re… // …Dead.

5. It’s almost as if you’re… // … dead.

6. It’s almost as if you’re… // … Dead.

Ugh. I hate to do this, but I propose two standards that can be considered “right” here. Unfortunately, each standard has its flaws. But before we get into that, let’s pick apart the other choices.

5 and 6 first. Should ellipses be stranded out in space? No. They’ll fucking float away if you do. I’m only half-joking — most punctuation tends to be grounded to words. One of the rare examples where it’s not is highlighted by the em-dash I used in the previous sentence. While it’s not touching any words, it’s still “grounded” in the sense that it can only operate in that fashion when placed between two words.

“That’s not–” <- As you can see here, when faced with the emptiness of the void, the em-dash latches onto the closest word. No floating allowed. Anyway, enough of this shit. back to the ellipses.

Following the logic of punctuation as a whole, we should avoid stranding the ellipsis, so 5 and 6 are out of the picture.

2 and 4 should also be out of the running. They indicate the second line can be considered a thought of its own — the capitalization is being used to show its independence. But is it really? No. At its core, the sentence is “It’s almost as if you’re dead.” The second line is entirely dependent on the first (“Dead.” has no meaning in and of itself here), so it should be lowercase to indicate this relationship.

This leaves us with 1 and 3.

1 is nice because it means fewer ellipses, especially if the sentence has to be spread over more than two lines. For example:

1. It’s… // almost as if you’re… // dead.

3. It’s… // …almost as if you’re… // …dead.

Ellipses aren’t the prettiest things around and two see two of them in a single line can be slightly jarring.

However, you’re guaranteed to never be confused with option 3. It makes sense. The ellipses are always going to indicate that there’s another part of the line missing no matter which part of the line you’re looking at.

So what we come down to is the aesthetic choice (option 1) vs. the logical choice (option 3). There’s enough gray area here that both are acceptable. But whichever standard you choose, make sure to stick with it. No mid-series flip-flopping!


III. Ellipses can be used to continue the thoughts of already finished lines.

1. I don’t hate you. // …or do I?

2. I don’t hate you. // … or do I?

3. I don’t hate you. // …Or do I?

4. I don’t hate you. // … Or do I?

It’s important to understand the intent of this usage of ellipses. The second part of the line is not planned to flow perfectly from the first. It’s a passing reference, an afterthought. The first sentence is completely standalone by intent. Forcing ellipses onto the first line (one possible example, “I don’t hate you… …or do I?”) would kill the timing of the second line, because it indicates to the viewer that there is something else being added onto it. We want to reflect the intent of the writers, not get in the way of what they had planned for the script. Therefore, the four options displayed above are the only ones that are up for argument.

I’ve already argued that I don’t think ellipses should be floating out in space. This brings us down to options 1 and 3 — questions of capitalization. And I’ve also argued this point in argument II. Woo-hoo! I’ve already done my own work here. The only option left is option 1, so we should go with that.


IV – Bonus Section! Trailing off in a standalone line, but with ending punctuation.

In the example below, the thought that trails off is “What the hell?” It is standalone in that the phrase is not continued in a following line.

1. What the…?

2. What the… ?

3. What the…

The first half of the thought is “What the” and the second part (that was cut off) is “hell?” It doesn’t initially make sense for the ending punctuation to be added to the line.

But then comes the argument of clarity. What if it’s not so clear-cut that the speaker is asking a question? What if the speaker is angry and shouting? How do we reflect that? We reflect it with option 1. Option 2 can be avoided because we don’t put spaces in between punctuation usually.


In the example below, the thought that trails off is “You son of a bitch!” It is standalone in that the phrase is not continued in a following line.

1. You son of a…!

2. You son of a… !

3. You son of a…

Option 1 helps reflect the tone of the line. Think of a deaf or hard-of-hearing individual. They won’t be able to tell the tone of the speaker without a visual cue. There’s no real benefit to dropping it off instead of keeping it on, so we might as well make it as clear as possible.


In the example below, the thought that trails off is “You’re my father.” It is standalone in that the phrase is not continued in a following line.

1. You’re my….

2. You’re my… .

3. You’re my…

So why didn’t I follow the previous examples and add the ending punctuation to the end of the line? Simple. There’s no real reason to. The previous lines only included ending punctuation for clarity. They changed how you pronounced their given lines. There’s no clarity provided with the extra period here because it’s already considered a normal sentence by default. The only thing provided here is a blight on screen real estate because nobody likes to see “….”.


~Tres~ Conclusion

4/10. Kind of dry. Would fuck again, but maybe I’ll go for her vagina next time.

Tags: ,


lygerzero0zero says:

Mentioned this in passing on another post, but on the matter of consistency:

By default I favor aesthetics for the trailing off/back in. That is to say, ellipsis only on the trail off and not on the back in (“It’s almost as if you’re… // dead.”).

However, when the pause is really long and I feel the audience needs reminding that it’s a continuation of a thought, I’ll toss in the ellipsis at the beginning of the trail back in (“It’s almost as if you’re… // [20 seconds later] …dead.”).

What are your thoughts on that?

Dark_Sage says:

That’s definitely the best way to handle a situation like that. You’re not even really being inconsistent because instead of “trailing off and then trailing back in” it’s more “trailing off” *time elapses* “trailing in”.

:o says:

you really are awesome =D thanks!

Xythar says:

I think you could make a case for option 3 in the third example:

3. I don’t hate you. // …Or do I?

As far as I can see, these are two separate sentences. Take out the ellipses and:

I don’t hate you.
Or do I?

looks a lot better than

I don’t hate you.
or do I?

And as far as I can see from the examples you’ve posted, ellipses are like commas in that they shouldn’t affect capitalisation. Well, unless you’re using them to trail off two separate sentences (“No way… It can’t be…”) but I would argue then that it’s the “invisible full stop” (or the fourth period that’s normally omitted for aesthetics) which is actually causing the sentence ending, not the ellipses.

Any words on the practice of starting a sentence with ellipses when a second character is finishing the first character’s line? eg

Dialogue: 0,0:16:49.07,0:16:51.19,Default,Tsujii,0000,0000,0000,,Return the dead…
Dialogue: 0,0:16:51.83,0:16:53.36,Default,Kawahori,0000,0000,0000,,…to death.

Do you consider it correct to do this, even when leaving them out at the start of lines otherwise?

Xythar says:

Why is the blog eating all my paragraph spacing :(

Dark_Sage says:

Because WordPress.

Dark_Sage says:

Ah yes, I forgot to talk about that. I’ll have to edit in that use of ellipses to the post when I get back home. The dialogue format should be exactly as you mentioned for two characters speaking the “same” line, even if you chose to go the “aesthetic” route for trail-ins/trail-outs.

As for option 3, you’re right. The removal of ellipses does result in option 3 looking far superior. But I think that also helps prove my point. The second line isn’t really meant to make any sense outside the context of the first sentence. The ellipses do indicate it’s missing something — namely, the first sentence — but when you make it lowercase it’s clear that without the first sentence, there’s nothing to the second. “or do I?” simply can’t exist on its own.

Pawprint says:

100% agreed. If the sentence was ended with a period, it’s OVER. Anything else would be a new sentence, and therefore require capitalization of the first word.

Pawprint says:

I also agree that the ellipsis is superfluous, but I wouldn’t really object to its being there. However, I still think “or” should be capitalized no matter what.

Merines says:

Seeing as these are your own rules based on your own observations on the accepted conventions of fansubbing, I’ll politely disagree on a few points.

By “trailing out of speech,” you mean “trailing off,” I assume.

I wonder how many fansubbers go to the trouble of using the unicode for ellipses rather than just pressing three periods together. I know we did this at Shinsen, and I did it at Formula and Nuke, but I don’t pay attention enough to other groups to notice. Same with apostrophes and quotation marks. You’d be surprised how much nicer quotes look with actual open and close marks.

As for the usage of ellipses in “dry, academic” writing versus fansubs, you’ve forgotten an important thing: writing fiction. This also comes up for a separate point about the use of exclamation or question marks following an ellipse for I’ll address both here. Look at any piece of fiction and count the number of ellipses on a couple pages of dialogue. The number will be very small. Granted, a writer could also write “so and so trailed off” to explain the inflection of a spoken line, but that’s also frowned upon. You must expect your reader to understand the tone of a line or you’ve written it too poorly. Deaf or hard of hearing leechers and in the vast minority, and we know fansubs do not pander to the minority. My point is, using ellipses at the end of a full sentence just to reflect the inflection of the spoken line is very overused and abuse in fansubbing for no reason other than poor editing. It’s the same as leaving honorifics in, just a way of connection what you read to what you hear, and we all know how much today’s fansubbers have a love/hate relationship with honorifics.

On to using punctuation after an ellipse: it’s wrong. You will never see this in any sort of professional writing. Don’t even mention that this method is used in R1 subs, because we all know they are infallible. It just looks bad, plus it’s an inconsistency. It’s the same thing I mentioned in the above paragraph, which is just a visual connect to what you read, and it’s even more unnecessary. It’s the editor’s decision to assume the final word of the phrase and end with an appropriate punctuation mark OR leave the word off, end with an ellipse and assume the reader knows English well enough to understand the inflection of the line without an ugly punctuation mark after the ellipse. Also, on inconsistency: some styles see it necessary to have a period after an ellipse. If you as an editor choose to put a question or exclamation mark after an ellipse, should you not also add a period at the end of an ellipse for consistency’s sake? Think of how badly D_S would grade your editing for that.

Both the above two points are squarely to blame on translators and editors who are too comfortable with Japanese. Translators, even good ones, often have issues with keeping the punctuation in line with the Japanese punctuation in their translations, either due to being hurried or just not caring to help the editor. This problem is exacerbated when closed captions are used, since the translator relying on them may not even be using the audio and therefore relying totally on the Japanese closed captions.

As for using an ellipse on a second timed line that completes the previous one, which also ended with an ellipse, I’m glad you see that this can also be correct. I hated this method until a.f.k.’s Zetsubou Sensei, where it just seems to work. I often used the same method in Arakawa UtB where the pause was particularly long, with a scene or two in between. Granted, this should probably only be used in comedic or very dramatic situations–I have used method 1 in most of the series I’ve edited. I would also like to point out that your examples in this subsection of lines with two pauses, the ellipses could be totally removed if the separate fragments were simply timed as separate lines, assuming the pause isn’t xboxhueg.

I have to totally disagree with section III. There’s no reason to have the ellipse there, none at all. If the pause is short, end the first line with a comma to indicate the pause and split the lines’ timing. If the pause is long, the fragment can stand alone. It’s a little hypocritical that you say ellipses are overused, yet you seem to overuse them yourself.

tl;dr? Think outside the Japanese line/audio. Use as few ellipses as possible. Timing can eliminate some, but being a good editor can eliminate most.

I’ve not proofread this, so there’re probably errors, but I’ve put way too much thought into this as-is. Come at me, editors.

Dark_Sage says:

Ooh, fun.

Nobody uses Unicode. I only ever see it used in first draft Aegisub files from non-native translators. Of course, their quotation marks don’t tend to open and close like you prefer. Pretty sure open/closed quotation marks are standard editing fare, if only because Aegisub defaults to that, but it’s not typically something I’d expect people to fret over.

I haven’t forgotten about fiction, but fiction is just as irrelevant to the argument as non-fiction is. You’re comparing literature to subtitles. Bad merines. We can get into why this is a bad idea, but I think you know the two are not one and the same, so don’t pretend they are.

You keep harping on these rules and regulations that apply to professional literature. I’m sure you’d flip your shit if you saw ?! but you’ll find yourself in an unwinnable fight. Fansubbing has moved on since your day. Interrobangs can be represented by a question mark and an exclamation mark side by side. There’s no reason to arbitrarily limit expression by assigning a “one mark” quota

As for your “gotcha” remark on consistency, the extra period doesn’t even factor in. I said it was best to use punctuation are the ellipsis if it helps improve understandi.ng. There’s no value in four periods together. Everybody avoids it.

This is meant to be a reference guide for when you see yourself in need of an ellipsis. I’m not advocating overuse. If it appeared that way because of my poor examples, then apologies, but that was not the intent. Editors should be competent enough to determine proper use.

Dark_Sage says:

My phone can be blamed for all the shitty English in that reply.

Merines says:

I had some long rebuttal typed up, but it’s not worth it since you’ll just say I’m an oldfag and can’t connect with today’s modern leecher. Things were so different in 2010 from today.

All I’m saying is, your guide encourages subpar editors to use lots of ellipses and feel justified. Your assumption that most editors are competent enough to actually understand proper ellipse usage after reading your guide is far more implausible than my assumption that most leechers can understand the inflection and tone of a line spoken in Japanese.

Dark_Sage says:

And because they can understand it means we shouldn’t reflect it? WTF am I reading?

If you have a legitimate point I’m willing to discuss it, but your modus operandi seems to be based on hero worship of your local library. I’m sure you understand, at least on a base level, that literature and subtitles are quite different. If not, I am willing to share why I think they aren’t the same.

Merines says:

If you won’t understand my point of view, I have nothing more to say. I’m surprised you aren’t more open-minded. Just know that as there is more than one style book for English, there’s more than one style book for fansubbing, and both can be correct.

Dark_Sage says:

I can understand where you’re coming from. It’s a style of editing that I used for the first 2 and half years I was editing. While I do agree that your views have their place, I don’t think they are relevant outside a certain subset of shows. Free-flowing language does not react well to your editing preferences, which is the main issue here. Forgive me for assuming here, but I assume you have a strong preference for grammatical perfection and complete sentences, based on what you’ve said about ellipses here.

That kinda stuff doesn’t work well when you get to language that needs spicing up. How do you handle jokes? Slang? Hardcore conservative editors won’t even consider slang in their scripts. I font know much about you, but I would posit you are, for the mist part, in the conservative camp.

Following a standard where you keep a conservative outlook on punctuation is fine. I won’t call you an idiot for preferring only one mark in your ending punctuation. But I’m advocating best standards here. These best standards allow for a question mark to be followed immediately by an exclamation mark. You can hate on it, but calling it wrong is simply untrue.

I wager that if I can convince you that subtitles need to he handled somewhat differently from literature that you’ll agree while your old way wasn’t incorrect, it wasn’t the best method.

FalseDawn says:

My only addition to this is that back in 2006, if you ended one sentence on an ellipsis and it carried onto the next, you started the next sentence with an ellipsis. Fansubbing editing conventions have changed a lot over the course of time.

For my part, I eradicate all …? and …! because if it’s trailing off, it can’t be considered a complete thought and only complete thoughts deserve interrobangs. However, ?! is fine by me (NEVER !?) because I think it expresses an exasperated question quite neatly. Though I feel that I’ve picked that up much more recently and would probably have been shot by my QCers if I’d used it a few years ago.

CWaffle says:

But Japanese is a language which, more than any other, leaves sentences and thoughts incomplete. And part of their “style” is doing this intentionally to obfuscate meaning, so as not to offend or as a means of deference. But this can mean that what gets filled in is not right or, even worse, requires an inordinate amount of text to convey. Some things that are unsaid are better left unsaid. I simply don’t understand how you can compare it to professional English non-fiction and fiction.

Xythar says:

I’m personally not a fan of …? and …! so I usually remove the ending punctuation if I see it while editing. On the other hand, I’m okay with ?! so go figure I guess.

Positron says:

I’m going over scripts I translated 4 years ago and ending up replacing around 20 unnecessary ellipses per script, so I can definitely relate to this. Oh well, at least I did follow every other style rule. =|

Firebird says:

I don’t understand…..

D_S, unrelated…is the template now stable…..dotdot….should I go ahead and fix up the review summary?

Dark_Sage says:

Yeah, go for it.

idiffer says:

I don’t know if “?!” isn’t used in proffesional writing at all or just used very rarely, but anyhow I fail to undestand how that came to be. Just as I can’t grasp why asians would invent chopsticks instead of forks.
“She looked lonely and scared” could be considered an error by the same logic.
Do you happen to know, D_S?

Haruya says:

After I read the whole thing, all I can say is: Since I’m not a native English speaker, I can definitely say that no book will ever teach me this kind of stuff, which I can’t help but think of as something very interesting. May I ask how is it that you became so knowledgeable about these rules for English language? And also, although I don’t know just how far your knowledge goes, I’d really like to see these kind of articles more often. You see, I’m aiming to become a professional translator one day, so all of this is very valuable information for me.

Greetings and thank you Dark_Sage, for sharing your knowledge. :)

kyonyUU says:

Dark_Sage makes it all up.
Then he makes a post calling them rules.
Then they become rules.

Nyangoro says:

A lot of the “fansubbing rules” follow a theory similar to the “rules of dialog.”

Obviously, there are differences to compensate for the fact that subbing is exclusively dialog (aside from typesetting/notes), while dialog (at least in terms of writing) is typically surrounded by more formal narration.

In essence, what the two concepts share in common is their focus on preserving “flow,” that inexplicable little thing that makes everything sound natural and not awkward as all hell. All “rules” are designed to contribute to that flow, and the basis for whether or not these rules are “correct” is how well they convey it.

janice says:

3. It’s almost as if you’re… // …dead. <—ew. no.

Ugly as hell. Only do this if the second line is another speaker finishing the first speaker's line or if there are lines in between a single speaker.

Beckett says:

Ah I love to see this sort of post on this site. Dark Sage, I may generally think your taste in anime sucks, but when it comes to English, you are the boss.

I like honorifics though.

elle says:

Does English support “?..” and “!..” instead of “…?” and “…!” respectively? My native language does, and, in fact, considers this as the only proper way of using exclamatory or interrogative ellipsis, i.e. “…?” and “…!” are considered wrong. That’s why “…!” looks really odd and ugly to me, so I was wondering if replacing it with “!..” is at all possible.

What about capitalization in cases when a sentence starts with ellipsis, as in quotes: “…The second sentence of the famous three-sentence quote…”

Dark_Sage says:

No it doesn’t. This is actually the first time I’ve ever seen it proposed that way.

If it’s the second SENTENCE of a three-sentence quote, then you would capitalize it.

Pawprint says:

By the way (and I realize I’m a little late to this party), can we all agree that ellipses should NOT be used to “lengthen” a vowel? Let’s says for example that a character says, effectively, “Wooooooow!” (In other words, the character literally says, “Sugoooooooi,” with a really long “oi.”) I’m betting 95% of TLs out there will write “Wow…” to indicate that the vowel was drawn out. NO NO NO!! If a sentence is complete, there should be no ellipsis at the end. Agree? Disagree?

FalseDawn says:

Why even do anything to lengthen the vowel? Just italic that word and it emphasises what’s going on the audio enough. Never heard of an ellipsis used to replace an elongated vowel though.

MotsuCQ says:

Yeah, I’m late in reading this post.

Some people use unspaced em-dashes. WikiP says unspaced or spaced is fine, but I think unspaced hurts readability. This relates to what you said:

“We can’t rely on outdated, antiquated rules”

This is the best tip on writing English that I’ve seen in a while. I also agree with putting periods after double quotes, despite what I was taught.

Pawprint says:

I can’t stand spaced em-dashes. They are&mdashand I don’t say this lightly&mdasheye cancer to me.

Pawprint says:

Aw, so much for embedding HTML….

Pawprint says:


They are—and I don’t say this lightly—eye cancer to me.

Hooray for semicolons!

MotsuCQ says:

I like them so I’ll share how to type them: NumLock on, press alt-0151 on the numpad. The HTML has a semicolon after what you tried.

Rem says:

Ellipses have changed in common usage (with none of those changes making a smooth transition into any sort of written work) and it seems we have a similar view on each situation.

“3. It’s almost as if you’re… // …dead.”

I’m glad you pointed out the glaring flaw in traling back in every time with an ellipsis, but pointed out that it’s still viable.

I have a lot of standards that I follow for scripts, but trailing into a broken line with an ellipsis has only one usage for me: A long pause between a broken line (but each line is considered case by case).

Leave a Comment