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Full Stops and Periods – Are They ‘In’ or ‘Out’

 

Full Stops and Periods in British English

The term “full stop” is the preferred term of art in the United Kingdom. Indeed, when it comes to matters of punctuation it is the term that is utilized nearly always. The word “period” is not widely in use in regard to British English.

Beyond terminology, there are also distinctions between which a full stop is used in British English as opposed to how it is used in American English. The major distinction between the use of a full stop in British as opposed to American English involves its use after a final quotation mark.

As a general rule, in British English, the full stop will be placed after the final quotation mark and not inside of that quotation mark if the phrase or sentence is not particularly long. An actual example of this usage can be helpful to you:


I just said:  “I don't want to go to the show”.

There are instances in which the sentence itself is particularly long in which case the full stop can be placed before the final quotation mark.

 

Full Stops and Periods in American English

The term “full stop” actually rarely ever is used in discussing punctuation practices in American English. The preferred term in American English is “period.”

As references, a major distinction between how the period (or full stop) is used in the American as opposed to British English involves the use of the period in regard to quotation marks.

In the case of American English, the period (or full stop) nearly always falls before the last quotation mark.  By way of example:


I just said: “I don't want to go to the show.”

 

There are some instances in American English in which the period (or full stop) will be placed after the final quotation mark. The exception generally centers around those instances in which including the period (or full stop) before the final quotation mark (the general rule) will end up causing confusion.

There are some other distinctions that do exist between British and American English when it comes to the use of the full stop or period that will be analyzed and considered more fully later.

 

Spacing After a Full Stop or Period

There has been no difference between British and American English as such in the historic rule pertaining to the spacing that should occur following a full stop or period. Historically, there have been two spaces following the full stop or period.

In recent years, thanks in no small part to the rise of the digital age and the Internet and World Wide Web, there has been a movement towards allowing for only one space following a full stop or period. This movement towards one space following a full stop or period has nearly fully taken root in the publishing industry in both the U.S. and the U.K. today.

However, in the academic world and in many other sectors, the preference and the practice remain for there to be two spaces following the full stop or period.

Of course, one can only surmise that with the growing power of the Internet and digital communications, the day very well may come (in the not too distant future) in which the spacing after the full stop or period may universally be reduced to a space of one.

 

Numerical Usage of the Full Stop or Period

There are some distinctions between the United States, the United Kingdom and much of Europe when it comes to the manner in which the full stop or period is utilized when it comes to numbers and mathematics.

In the United States and in the United Kingdom, the full stop or period is used as a decimal separator. In other words, the full stop or period is designed to separate the whole numbers from the decimals. By way of example:


1,000,000.00 (one million)

Throughout many countries in Europe, the practice actually starkly is different. In these nations, the full stop or period is used to separate the whole numbers and the comma is utilized to separate out the decimals. Again, an example can be helpful:


1.000.000,00 (one million)

 

The Full Stop or Period and Abbreviations

There are some differences between how the full stop or period is utilized in abbreviations in the U.K. and in the U.S.

For example, in the U.K. if the intended abbreviation includes both the first and last letter of the expanded word, a full stop will not be utilized. For example:


Dr
Mr
Mrs

In the U.S., a period is always used in such a situation. Again, an example illustrates this point:

Dr.
Mr.
Mrs.

In looking a bit further at abbreviations and the use of the full stop or the period in the U.K. and U.S. another difference in usage occurs in regard to the use of initials. For example, when initials are used in the U.K., periods are not placed between the letters:


NATO
USSR

The opposite generally is the rule in the United States:

N.A.T.O.
U.S.S.R.



It must be noted, however, that in the U.S. you can commonly see abbreviations that include and abbreviations that exclude the period contained between the letters.  Ultimately, the prime consideration in the United States in regard to this issue of punctuation centers more on consistency than anything else at this point in time.

 

A Brief Look at the History of the Term “Full Stop”

The term “full stop” arose out of telegraph transmissions. The word “stop” was used at the end of each sentence to designate its conclusion. The term “full stop” was not used in such instances because it proved more expensive due to the addition of the word “full.” The words “full stop” was utilized at the ultimate conclusion of the telegraph transmission to indicate its actual and ultimate complete conclusion. The term “full stop” continues to be widely used – again, particularly in the United Kingdom – when it comes to punctuation considerations and issues.