A full stop (or period, depending on where you are from in the world) is a simple punctuation mark that we use every day in our writing without thinking about it. Most people just use them without ever stopping to think about the real reason for them, so this can often lead to people using full stops when it isn’t strictly necessary, or not using them when they are. With so many punctuation options available to writers, it’s hard to know when to use full stops or something else. Thankfully, this guide will help clear that up for you and highlight some common mistakes for you to be aware of in the process!
The Full Stop/Period (.)
What is a Full Stop (Period)?
A full stop, also known as a period in American English, is one of the most commonly used punctuation marks in the English language. Analysis of texts indicates that approximately half of all punctuation marks used are full stops. A full stop is a punctuation mark (.) that we most often use at the end of a declarative sentence. A declarative sentence is simply a sentence that makes a statement. There are other uses too, which we will cover below.
A full stop is mostly used at the end of a declarative sentence, or a statement that is considered to be complete. This punctuation mark is also used following an abbreviation. A full stop can also be shown at the end of a group of words that don’t form a typical sentence.
American vs. British English
In American English, the full stop is most often called a period. Besides the difference in name, there are only subtle differences in the usage of the full stop or period. For example, individuals from the United Kingdom are much more likely to write their country in its abbreviated form as ‘UK’. In the United States, however, it is much more likely to be written as ‘U.S.A.’.
In a similar vein, American English is much more likely to write somebody’s title with a period following it, such as ‘Mr. Jones’ but in British English, it is much more likely to see it written as ‘Mr Jones’. Besides these subtle differences though, the period or full stop are used in very similar ways, especially in declarative sentences.
Key Points to Remember
We should always use periods or full stops at the end of sentences that simply make a statement. If you wish to show emphasis or excitement, then an exclamation point should be used. If the sentence is a question, then we should use a question mark. Remember, these three punctuation marks are the only way to end a sentence, so if you know how to use all three of them correctly, you won’t go far wrong.
When to Use a Full Stop
As we’ve already covered, there are different ways in which we can use a full stop. Below we’ll look at this in slightly more detail, and hopefully, you’ll be better able to see why we use full stops in that way. We’ll also cover some more instances that we haven’t yet covered.
For Declarative Sentences
Again, a declarative sentence simply makes a statement. Unless you are using another specific sentence type (more on that later) then you’re probably using a declarative sentence and a full stop should be used. Here are some examples:
- I like chocolate.
- Tim’s favorite color is blue.
- The wedding will take place next Friday.
Remember though, this is common in American English, but much less so in British English. Here are some more examples:
- Mr. Richards was a kind man.
- Dr. Martin was always honest.
- Mrs. Smith was a powerful boss.
As A Decimal Point
We also use full stops as a decimal point in numbers when we are trying to show a number with a decimal. For example:
- He won 1.3 million dollars on the lotto.
- Sales were up 13.5% on last year.
- Hot days are 1.5x more likely in winter now, compared to a decade ago.
When we shorten words or abbreviate them, we most often use full stops to show that we are omitting some letters within a word. We’ve already discussed the differences in British and American English (UK vs U.S.A.) but there are some situations that abbreviations and full stops are used in both countries. For example:
When Not to Use a Full Stop
The only reason that you shouldn’t use a full stop is when another punctuation mark better shows the tone of the sentence. Remember earlier when we said unless you were using another sentence type, you were probably using a declarative sentence and should therefore use a full stop. Well, here are some other sentence types which should end in different punctuation marks.
Questions should always be finished with a question mark. You may also use question marks to show surprise or uncertainty at the end of a statement, but this is done stylistically for tone. Here are the two ways in which a question mark should end the sentence rather than a full stop:
- What time should we expect you? – This is a direct question, so we should use a question mark.
- She said that? – This isn’t a question in the strictest sense, but by placing a question mark here you are showing disbelief and uncertainty. The way a reader approaches this sentence will very much depend on the context surrounding it.
When we use exclamations, we should use an exclamation point. We use exclamation points to show excitement or emphasis. Exclamation points should be used sparingly within a text or else they lose some of their value. Here are some examples of when an exclamation point might be a better choice than a full stop:
- I can’t believe you’re finally here!
- Wow! You’re new hair looks amazing. – Notice here how we only used an exclamation point after ‘wow’. Whilst the excitement is still clear in the second sentence, we use a period instead. Again, overusing exclamation points can make a piece seem unprofessional, so be wary of that.
A full stop, question mark, and exclamation point are the only three punctuation marks that should end a sentence. Decide which one better suits the sentence you have written and you’ll be fine.
Common Mistakes with Full Stops
Besides wrongly using a full stop for a question or exclamatory statement, the most common mistakes with full stops occur when other punctuation marks are involved. In the following section, we’ll cover the most common mistakes in these cases.
Periods and Quotation Marks
If we are using quotation marks in a piece, people can mistakenly place the period in the wrong position. In the following examples, we’ll show you some common mistakes and then show you the correct way to write it:
- Incorrect: “I’m so tired.” She said.
- Correct: “I’m so tired,” she said.
Even though the statement is complete within the quotation marks, we only use a period at the end of the complete sentence. Try reading the first option above, placing an emphasized pause on the period in the quotation marks. Notice how awkward it is to read? That is why when a quotation comes before the rest of the sentence, we use a comma and then a period at the end of the complete sentence. But what if the quotation mark comes last?
- Incorrect: She said, “I’m tired“.
- Correct: She said, “I’m tired.“
In this case, the period should always come inside the quotation marks when the quote is ending the sentence.
Periods and Parentheses
Similarly, people make mistakes with parentheses and periods too. We’ll show you the common mistakes and the correct way to write them below:
- Incorrect: Joe was excited to cook dinner (although he was scared about the fish.)
- Correct: Joe was excited to cook dinner (although he was scared about the fish).
When the parentheses do not encompass the entire sentence, we should place the period outside the parentheses. But what about when the entire sentence is within the parentheses?
- Incorrect: Joe was excited to cook dinner. (Although he was scared about the fish).
- Correct: Joe was excited to cook dinner. (Although he was scared about the fish.)
When the parentheses do encompass the entire sentence, we should place the period within the parentheses.
Examples of Using Periods in Sentences
At the end of a declarative sentence.
- There is no place like home.
- Love makes the world go round.
- He wanted them to jump to it.
- Your writing is hard to read.
- Take the world as it is.
After titles in American English.
- Mr., Mrs., Dr., Sr., Jr., …
- He owes a lot of money to Mr. Smith.
- Dr. Smith instructs us in botany.
- Retail sales fell by 1.3% in January.
- The average price of goods rose by just 2.2%.
Following an abbreviation.
- approx.: Approximately
- etc.: And so on
- i.e.: That is, that means, in other words
- govt.: Government
- adm.: Administration
- They were arrested on Jun. 20, 1980.
- We are mutual friends, enemies, etc.
- The price must be more realistic, i.e. lower.
Showing the end of an unconventional sentence.
- He was not allowed to do that. Not while he was the leader of the group.
Full Stop (Period) Image
Full Stop vs. Exclamation Mark vs. Question Mark
Learn the differences between a full stop, a question mark, and an exclamation mark in English with rules and examples.
Full Stop Quiz
Below, we’ll test your new knowledge of full stops. Decide whether the following sentences are correct or incorrect and then decide how you would write them correctly if you think they are incorrect:
- Do you think we can make it on time.
- Daniel was getting worried (it was already dark).
- The water was cold.
1.Incorrect. The sentence is not a declaration, but a question, so a different punctuation mark should end the sentence.
Do you think we can make it on time?
2. Correct. When parentheses do not encompass the entire sentence, we should place a period outside the parentheses.
3. Correct. A simple declarative sentence that just makes a statement should always be finished with a full stop.