Improve your English: the full stop

the full stop


The spots on this ladybird look like full stops.

This post is a short guide to some of the most common uses of the full stop in English.

The full stop (.) is also known as the period (American English), and its main function is to mark the end of a sentence.

Examples of sentences ending with a full stop

I like learning English.

I live in Japan.

My favourite foods are fruit, rice, and pizza.

Harry Potter was a very unusual boy in many ways.  (The first line of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azbakan by J.K. Rowling)

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  (The first line of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy)

 

Abbreviations

Full stops are also sometimes used to show abbreviated (shortened) words or phrases.

Latin abbreviations are very often written with full stops.

Examples:

etc. – et cetera, which means “and the rest”

e.g. – exempli gratia, which means “for example”

i.e. – id est, which means “in other words”

a.m. – ante meridiem, which means “before midday”

p.m. – post meridiem, which means “after midday”

It’s important to note that there are different recommendations for this use of full stops, and I’ve seen at least one university stating that full stops are not necessary in Latin abbreviations.

If you’re writing academic English it would be wise to ask for and follow your individual university’s guidance on this.

 

Acronyms

It used to be common practice for some acronyms and initialisms to be written with full stops between the individual letters, but this is unnecessary and now they are all usually written without punctuation. Here are some examples:

NATO

UNICEF

IKEA

FBI

BBC

CNN

ESL

EFL

 

And as you might expect there are some differences between the use of the full stop in American and British English! For example:

British/UK English American English
Mrs Mrs.
Ms Ms.
Mr Mr.
Dr Dr.

 

 

The full stop in text messaging and instant messaging

I recently read an interesting article about the full stop, and how in texting and instant messaging it’s gone from being a neutral punctuation mark that simply ends a sentence, to one with some sort of emotional significance that means the conversation is over or that you’re being sarcastic or angry.

The article author, Ben Crair, quotes Mark Liberman, a professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania:

“In the world of texting and IMing … the default is to end just by stopping, with no punctuation mark at all. In that situation, choosing to add a period also adds meaning because the reader(s) need to figure out why you did it. And what they infer, plausibly enough, is something like ‘This is final, this is the end of the discussion or at least the end of what I have to contribute to it.’”

 

Do you use full stops in text messages and instant messaging?

I do. And it hadn’t occurred to me that in digital communications like text messages, full stops have mostly been replaced by line breaks so that by deliberately including a full stop you are marking something other than the end of a sentence. 

I’ve definitely never used a full stop to express sarcasm or anger in a text or IM 🙂 But I’m 52 years old and maybe this is something that is more likely to be relevant in communications between younger people. 

What do you think?

 

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Angela Boothroyd

Angela Boothroyd

English language teacher at Botanical Linguist
Hi, I'm Angela, the Botanical Linguist, and I show learners of English how to become successful and self-directed or independent language learners. If you want to improve your English accuracy and fluency and learn everyday strategies and activities that will help you learn English without spending a lot of money on lessons, subscribe to my free newsletter here.
Angela Boothroyd
Angela Boothroyd
Angela Boothroyd

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Comments

  1. I never knew a full stop in a text was expressing sarcasm, no wonder me and my eldest have so many text fights. I’ve turned into that mum that doesn’t know the meaning of the text language. In East London (where I’m from), when talking we tend to use a swear word to signify a sentence end rather than a pause…
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