How to Use the Full Stop/Period

A full stop is one of the most common punctuation marks used to end a sentence (see Question Mark and Exclamation Mark for other ending marks).

You might have heard the word period used for this punctuation mark. This is the American term for what people using British English (e.g. U.K., Ireland, Australia*) call a full stop.

Before you know where and when to use a full stop in English, you need to know what a clause is. At the most basic level (and it's a rule you can hold on to), a clause must feature both a subject (person or thing 'doing' something) and a verb (the action or 'doing' word). There can be other elements, but these two are the minimum.

A clause can be a complete sentence, but don't confuse the two, as a sentence can feature a number of clauses. So, you need to be sure that your sentence is well formed and should end where you place your full stop. 

Most of the time, you should avoid using a full stop at the end of a clause if the next clause connects logically and comfortably with either a short or long pause. In these cases, you should use a comma or semicolon.

Remember that in formal English writing (Academic, Business, etc.) you should never begin a sentence with words like 'and', 'but', 'because', and so on. These are conjunctions, connecting clauses in a logical sentence structure. So, for example, in formal written English, you should not write this:

My name is Sally. And I work in Accounts.

The two full stops show us that these are complete sentences. They are also clauses. They should, however, be joined together in formal written English, like this:

My name is Sally, and I work in Accounts.

The same applies for the following:

I brought my umbrella today. Because it's raining.

I don't like that colour. But I like the other one.

Both of these sentences should be combined, replacing the first full stop with a comma:

I brought my umbrella today, because it's raining.

I don't like that colour, but I like the other one.

In Bullet Points

Things can get a little confusing when it comes to bullet points. A bullet point is not always treated the same as a sentence, and so the rules for using a full stop can vary. In Business and Academic English, there are different manuals and guidelines of style that give us conflicting rules, and there are also differences depending on whether you're using American, British, or Australian English. Whichever you choose (and your choice should depend on your target reader), be consistent! Here are some examples.

If your bullet points are a selection of options for completing a sentence you opened with, you should finish them with a full stop.

Example 1

I like learning English online because:

  • it's fun.
  • it's convenient.
  • it's user-friendly.

All of the bullet points above could complete the sentence we started with, and so they are treated as part of that sentence. The colon at the end of the opening sentence is optional, and rules vary in this regard.

Example 2

I like learning English online because:

  • it's fun;
  • it's convenient; and
  • it's user-friendly.

Here, we see that the bullet points are treated like a list in a single sentence. They are separated by a semicolon to indicate long, connecting pauses between a selection of optional sentence endings (see semicolon for more). This style is more suited to formal writing, like legal or academic, for example.

However, some bullet point lists will feature more than one sentence - for example, if you are asking a question and providing a selection of optional answers:

Example 3

Why do you like learning English online?

  • I like it because it's fun.
  • I like it because it's convenient.
  • I like it because it's user-friendly.

Here, the reader is provided with full, ready-made answers to the question. Each answer is treated as a complete sentence, so it takes a full stop.

Example 4

Why do you like learning English online?

  • It's fun.
  • It's convenient.
  • It's user-friendly.

In this example, the answers are more concise. They are still complete sentences, though, and so - like in Example 3 - they take full stops. This is not completely necessary, however, and some writers will choose the following style:

Example 5

Why do you like learning English online?

  • I like it because it's fun
  • I like it because it's convenient
  • I like it because it's user-friendly

This is a more informal way of writing, but it is not incorrect. Overall, we recommend that you check style guides and the requirements of people (editors, examiners, etc.) to whom you are sending or submitting your writing.

In Headings/Titles

Headings or Titles do not usually take a full stop, as they are not treated as a sentence. An exception to this is where a quotation is used in a heading or title. If a book or an article was written about or inspired by something someone once said, that person might be quoted in the title. Imagine you were interviewed on TV, and you said that you really enjoyed learning English online. If you were reading from a script, it would look like this:

"I really enjoyed learning English online." (See below for the placement of the full stop in scripts or dialogue)

Now imagine that someone publishes a book about your experience a few months later, and they use your words as the title for the book. That would look like this:

"I Really Enjoyed Learning English Online"

As you can see, the words in a title take a capital letter. However, the sentence you spoke doesn't need a full stop when featured as a title.

In Scripts/Dialogue

We have said that the full stop closes your sentence, like a bookend or back cover. The exception to this rule occurs in dialogue, where sentences indicating people speaking occur inside the boundaries of the punctuation marks which indicate dialogue. When indicating dialogue, you use quotation marks; and you have two choices in this regard - single or double quotation marks. Regardless of which style you choose for your dialogue, a full stop always goes before the quotation marks. Look at these examples:

"I love learning English online. It's so much fun."

"I love learning English online because it's so much fun."

As well as using this form for screenwriting or fiction in general, these examples would also be suited for showing quotes in isolation (see our section on Quotation Marks for how to incorporate quotes into your sentences).

When Using Brackets/Parentheses

A parenthesis (or parenthetical statement) is a short explanation or clarification of the surrounding text, placed in between a pair of brackets (or parentheses). If a parenthesis occurs at the end of a sentence, and it belongs within that sentence, you should always put the full stop outside the closing/second bracket. The full stop should always be the last mark in the sentence:

So, you could say that you love learning English online (because it's so much fun).

*While Australian English is derived from British English, there are some exceptions when using Australian English.

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