The Full Stop - Punctuation for Students

Writing | Grammar | English in Use

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The full stop or period is the most commonly used punctuation mark in English. The most common use of the full stop is to mark the end of declaratory sentences. It can also be placed after initial letters used to stand for a name, as in R.I. Chalmers, and also to mark the individual letters of some acronyms and abbreviations. While first introduced by Aristophanes of Byzantium in the third century, the full stop in its current position became popular from the ninth century onwards, and once movable type printing had become established, the full stop as we know it became the norm. It is not a difficult piece of punctuation to use, and is far easier to use than the comma. This lesson has a video that will tell you all about the full stop and how to use it, and a quiz to check your understanding of some of the vocabulary in the video.

In the 3rd century BC, a bloke from Byzantium called Aristophanes fancied himself as a bit of a writer. The problem was that whatever Aristophanes wrote people would say to him, “It’s all Greek to me, Ari.” Aristophanes threw down his pen in despair, realising that there was no point in writing if nobody knew where one idea finished and another began. As luck would have it, his pen struck the page and left a small dot. “Eureka!” he cried. “Now I can put a stop to all those complaints.” In fact, he put three stops to it; one at the top of the line, one in the middle of the line, and one on the baseline. Aristophanes’ full stop was the dot which was placed at the top of the line, not the one on the baseline. Gradually, however, his middle and bottom dots were soon forgotten because Aristophanes forgot to tell people what they were for. By the 9th century, the confused scribes were beginning to place all of their full stops on the baseline. When moveable type printing appeared in Europe in the 14th century, a decision had to be made: top, middle or bottom? Bottom was chosen, because Gutenberg was more of a bottom man, and the rest, as they say, is history, even if it’s not very accurate history. The Americans still use the printer’s term period for any baseline dot, while the British adopted the term full stop in the 20th century. They opted for the full stop as the word period sounded altogether too rude for the sensitive British ear. Picasso might have had his blue period, but his wife’s period was something else again. If Aristophanes had copyrighted the full stop, his descendants would have been very rich, as half of all punctuation in printed texts are full stops. The full stop is found at the end of declarative sentences, on computer keyboards, and right at the pointy end of pencils and pens. A full stop is not found at the end of a question, however, nor an interjection, nor an exclamation! At the end of the sentence, the full stop tells us that the sentence has come to a full stop and won’t be going anywhere else in a hurry, and no mistake. That is, to cut a long story short, there is no more to be said by that sentence as that sentence is finished and ended and has absolutely nothing more to say to the world, so help it, God. After the full stop, the following sentence must always be started by a writer, who must always use a capital letter. Yet the magnificent powers of the full stop do not end there, not by any means, I must say. We also use them after some abbreviations such as Dr. for doctor, or Prof. for professor. If such abbreviations come at the end of a sentence, we do not use two full stops, as you might expect. Initials are also marked with full stops, as in R. I. Chalmers, Page 2 The Full Stop Britlish.com or me, as I like to call myself. Full stops used to be used in acronyms, as in the U.K., but this is now an anachronism. The Internet has brought new opportunities for the full stop that Aristophanes could scarcely have dreamed about. On the Internet, however, we call the full stop a dot and there is no point calling it anything else. In mathematics, however, I ought to point out that we do call the full stop a point and it’s pointless to call it anything else. The point is used to separate decimals from the whole numbers, as in 3.141592653589793238 …you get the idea. And that’s all I have to say about the full stop, full stop.

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