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The full stop (.), also called the period, presents few problems. It is chiefly
used to mark the end of a sentence expressing a statement, as in the following
Note how the full stops are used in the following article, extracted from TheGuardian:
- Terry Pratchett's latest book is not yet out in paperback.
- I asked her whether she could tell me the way to Brighton.
- Chinese, uniquely among the world's languages, is written in a
- The British and the Irish drive on the left; all other Europeans drive on
There is one common error you must watch out for. Here is an example of it
(remember, an asterisk marks a badly punctuated sentence):
- The opening of Ken Loach's film Riff-Raff in New York casts doubt
onWinston Churchill's observation that the United States and Britain
were two countries separated by a common language.
In what must be a first, an entire
British film has been given sub-titles to help Americans cut through the thick
stew of Glaswegian, Geordie, Liverpudlian, West African and West
Indian accents. With the arrival of Riff-Raff, English as spoken by many
British citizens has qualified as a foreign language in the US. Admittedly, the
accents on the screen would present a challenge to many people raised on the
Queen's English. But it is disconcerting to watch a British film with
sub-titles, not unlike watching Marlon Brando dubbed into Italian.
Can you see what's wrong with this? Yes, there are two complete statements
here, but the first one has been punctuated only with a comma. This is not
possible, and something needs to be changed. The simplest way of fixing the
example is to change the comma to a full stop:
- *Norway has applied for EC membership, Sweden is expected to do the
Now each statement has its own full stop. This is correct, but you might
consider it clumsy to use two short sentences in a row. If so, you can change
the bad example in a different way:
- Norway has applied for EC membership. Sweden is expected to do the
This time we have used the connecting word and to combine the two short
statements into one longer statement, and so now we need only one full stop at
- Norway has applied for EC membership, and Sweden is expected to do
Here are some further examples of this very common error:
All of these examples suffer from the same problem: a comma has been used to
join two complete sentences. In each case, either the comma should be replaced
by a full stop, or a suitable connecting word should be added, such as and or
- *Bangladesh is one of the world's poorest countries, its annual income
is only $80 per person.
- *The British are notoriously bad at learning foreign languages, the
Dutch are famously good at it.
- *The proposal to introduce rock music to Radio 3 has caused an
outcry, angry letters have been pouring into the BBC.
- *Borg won his fifth straight Wimbledon title in 1980, the following year
he lost in the final to McEnroe.
Later, I'll explain another way of punctuating these
sentences, by using a semicolon.
Full stops are also sometimes used in punctuating
Summary of full stops:
- Put a full stop at the end of a complete statement.
- Do not connect two statements with a comma.
Copyright © Larry Trask, 1997