period (full stop)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

period (punctuation)
"There's not much to be said about the period," says William K. Zinsser, "except that most writers don't reach it soon enough" (On Writing Well, 2006). (carterdayne/Getty Images)

Definitions

(1) A period is a punctuation mark ( . ) indicating a full stop, placed at the end of declarative sentences (as well as other statements thought to be complete) and after many abbreviations. Also called a full stop (chiefly British) or a full point.

As discussed below, periods are often omitted in text messages. Nonetheless, says Claire Fallon, "there hasn’t been much evidence that a laissez-faire attitude toward the period is migrating from digital messaging to the broader category of the written word" (Huffington Post, June 6, 2016).

(2) In rhetoric, a period is a sentence of two or more carefully balanced clauses marked by suspended syntax, in which the sense is not completed until the final word. See periodic sentence.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:


Etymology
From the Greek, "circuit, way round"


Examples and Observations (Definition #1)

  • "The speed of light is the speed of light. Period, full stop."
    (William C Keel, The Sky at Einstein's Feet. Springer, 2006)
     
  • "So the job was a simple tail, period, full stop, finish. She didn't want even a cursory background check done on her Ken."
    (Linda Barnes, Lie Down With the Devil. Minotaur, 2008) 
     
  • "We can't be politically correct—right or left—in the war on terrorism. Period."
    (Colonel David Hunt, "On the Hunt." National Review, June 25, 2003)
     
  • Punctuating Declarative Sentences
    "Every sentence that's not an exclamation or a question must end with a period.  And because people are by and large too proud to ask too many questions and too shy to go around hollering all the time, the vast (not the half-vast) majority of sentences are what are called declarative statements—statements that just say something and therefore end in a period.

    "It is difficult to think of any other instance in life in which  something as small as the period carries so much clout."
    (Richard Lederer and John Shore, Comma Sense: A Fundamental Guide to Punctuation. St. Martin's, 2005)

     
  • Full Stop
    "Full stop virtually explains itself: a full stop, like a full or perfect point, is obviously not an imperfect point or stop, whether as brief as a comma or as clear-cut as a semicolon or as disruptive as a dash or as smooth as a pair of parentheses or as culturally poised as a colon: here ends the statement, here ends the sentence. . . .

    "Beginners, especially children, overdo the period, inasmuch as they seem to think that no other stop exists. This is what the Fowler brothers call 'the spot-plague.'"
    (Eric Partridge, You Have a Point There: A Guide to Punctuation and Its Allies, rev. ed. Routledge, 1978)

     
  • Periods With Other Marks of Punctuation
    "When an abbreviation or an initialism that ends with a period comes at the end of a sentence, there is no need to add another period to end the sentence.
    Talk to J.D.
    They studied biology, chemistry, etc.
    I know Hal Adams Sr.
    "When a sentence is structured in such a way that a question mark or exclamation point is placed where a terminal period would ordinarily go, the period is omitted.
    Alfred E. Neuman's catch phrase is 'What Me Worry?'
    He read the book What Color Is Your Parachute?
    The company bought a thousand shares of Yahoo!"
    (June Casagrande, The Best Punctuation Book, Period. Ten Speed Press, 2014)
     
  • How Many Spaces Go After a Period?
    Use just one space after a period. If you grew up using a typewriter, you were probably taught to insert two spaces. But like the typewriter itself, that custom went out of fashion many years ago. With modern word-processing programs, a second space is not only inefficient (requiring an extra keystroke for each sentence) but potentially troublesome: it can cause problems with line breaks.

     
  • David Crystal on Periods in Text Messages
    - Note that journalist Dan Bilefsky playfully omits periods in this excerpt from an article in The New York Times.

    "One of the oldest forms of punctuation may be dying


    "The period—the full-stop signal we all learn as children, whose use stretches back at least to the Middle Ages—is gradually being felled in the barrage of instant messaging that has become synonymous with the digital age

    "So says [linguist] David Crystal . . .

    "'We are at a momentous moment in the history of the full stop,’ Professor Crystal . . . said in an interview . . . at the Hay Festival in Wales

    "'In an instant message, it is pretty obvious a sentence has come to an end, and none will have a full stop,’ he added. ‘So why use it?’

    "In fact, the understated period . . . may have suddenly taken on meanings all its own

    "Increasingly, says Professor Crystal, . . . the period is being deployed as a weapon to show irony, syntactic snark, insincerity, even aggression

    "If the love of your life just canceled the candlelit, six-course, home-cooked dinner you have prepared, you are best advised to include a period when you respond 'Fine.' to show annoyance

    "'Fine' or 'Fine!,' in contrast, could denote acquiescence or blithe acceptance"
    (Dan Bilefsky, "Period. Full Stop. Point. Whatever It's Called, It's Going Out of Style." The New York Times, June 9, 2016)

    - "[Dan Bilefsky] used no full-stop at the end of his [lead] paragraph, or elsewhere in the article. It was a clever trope, but it went well beyond what I was saying, for there is no evidence at all that the full-stop is being less used in conventional writing, such as in newspaper articles. The writer's joke worked because he restricted his piece to single-sentence paragraphs. If he had used more than one sentence per paragraph he would soon have had to rely on the full-stop to make his writing easy to read.

    "So the full-stop is not dying, outside the circumstances I mentioned above."
    (David Crystal, "On the Reported Death of the Full-Stop/Period." DCBlog, June 11, 2016)

     

  • The Lighter Side of Periods
    "A newsroom legend tells of a cub reporter who flooded the city desk with long, flowery stories. His sentences warmed up slowly, curled around a long phrase or two, eventually ambled up to a weak verb, then trailed off in a thicket of subordinate clauses.

    "The cigar-chomping city editor (in those days city editors were always cigar-chomping, desk-thumping, and whiskey swigging) bellowed across the newsroom, summoning the cub. While the kid sat trembling before him, the old curmudgeon rolled a sheet of copy paper into his typewriter and began pounding away with one finger. Eventually he filled the page and handed it to the cub. It was completely covered with black dots.

    "'Here,' he said. 'We call those periods. We have lots of them around the newsroom. Use all you want. Anytime you run out, just come on back and I'll give you some more.'"
    (Jack R. Hart, A Writer's Coach: An Editor's Guide to Words That Work. Random House, 2006)


Pronunciation: PEER-ee-ed