Punctuation: Part One – Stops, The Use of Periods


At a recent meeting of our writing club, we began talking about punctuation, and the group admitted they were unsure about the rules of punctuation. I wasn’t surprised, as I too have problems struggling as to how to structure some sentences with punctuation to convey the meaning I want.

Punctuation makes the words flow. There is added inflection and meaning to each sentence when there is proper punctuation. Understanding how to use common punctuation will make you a better writer.

In this series of Posts, I will be discussing the rules of common punctuation. The easiest place to start is with Periods.


Period Rules and Uses

Periods end declarative sentences. They mark the end of the sentence unless the sentence is a question or an exclamation. Misusing a period is difficult. Think of the period as a full stop. When reading a sentence ending in a period, you stop a nanosecond to digest the meaning of the sentence.

There are some instances where confusion reigns as to where a period should be placed with other punctuation. Here are some handy references for you:

With quotation marks: In American English, the period always goes inside the closing quotation mark.

Example: “I think we’ve lost him.” However, in British English, the period goes outside the closing quotation mark.

Example: “I think we lost him”.  For someone like me, who reads a lot of British literature, it is easy to get confused.

With parentheses: If the parenthetical statement is its own independent clause placed between two full sentences, then the full sentence, including its period, goes inside the parentheses.

Example: I’m good at tennis. (At least I think I am.) A more truthful statement might be: I am getting the hang of it.

If the statement is at the end, or is included in the middle of another independent clause, the period goes at the end of the non-parenthetical statement, thus outside of the parentheses.

Example: I am a pro at tennis (and I don’t give myself enough credit).

After an abbreviation: If you have ended a sentence with an abbreviation, like “etc.”, there is no need to add another period.

Example: I love so many things about tennis: being outdoors, hitting a great shot, outrunning my opponent, etc.

There are times when writing creatively that the period is used to indicate fragmented phases or even just a word to emphasize emotions, increase tension, or stilted thinking. Fragments are also acceptable in dialogue and punctuated with periods, exclamation points, or question marks.

Example to emphasize emotions: My hands. Blood. “Help!”

Example to increase tension: Tick tock. Tick tock.

Example to use in dialogue: “Terrible. Ridiculous!”

 I’d love to hear from you. Was this helpful for your writing?

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