Top Punctuation Howlers – The Period

This Just In: Thieves Steal Critical Punctuation

Let’s say there’s a burglar on the loose. You turn on your television just as the newscaster is finishing the news alert:

“It has been reported the burglar is carrying a deadly firearm. Police caution all residents to stay indoors and lock all exterior doors. And now for your weather forecast-”

The bulletin behind the newscaster should have filled you in on the critical details, i.e. the burglar’s relative vicinity to you. However, the “Reports of a burglar in the … neighborhood” is hardly informative and it’s undoubtedly nerve-wracking.

Proper punctuation is critical to create a good user experience, as well as maintain your credibility and your message. This brings us to today’s top punctuation howler: the period, as well as its close relative the ellipsis.

Period.

The period is used at the end of a sentence that is: declarative (statements), somewhat imperative (mild commands), or a sentence without a verb that is not a question or an exclamation.

  • “What a smart gorilla!” (exclamatory) vs. “The gorilla is smart.” (declarative)
  • “Sit!” (imperative) vs. “Have a seat.” (mild imperative)
  • “Turn right at the corner to get to the store.” (with verb) vs. “This way to the store.” (without verb)

Ellipsis …

An informal ellipsis ( … ) is commonly used to indicate trailing-off, hesitation, to be continued, or to convey the passage of time.

In formal writing, the traditional 3 dot ellipsis is often used to indicate words omitted within or at the beginning of a sentence. Use 4 dots (a period followed by 3 dots) when omitting the final words of the quoted sentence or a complete paragraph or more.

Let’s use Rosalynn Smith Carter’s inspiring quote: “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go but ought to be.”

  • “A great leader takes people where they … ought to be.”
  • “… where they don’t necessarily want to go but ought to be.”
  • “A leader takes people…. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go but ought to be.”

And Other Period Tips

  • Quotations Marks: “Periods always belong inside quotation marks.”
     
  • Single Spacing: For articles and other forms of online writing, it’s acceptable to use one space between a period and the next sentence. Also, always leave one regular space on both sides of an ellipsis.
     
  • Abbreviations and Acronyms: Abbreviations that stand for a single word are typically followed by a period, e.g. Mr. and Mrs. or Ph.D. It’s becoming more and more acceptable to not use periods for abbreviations like measurements (lb), organizations (NATO), computers/technology (CD), titles (CEO), and many others.

We will have more punctuation howlers coming up in the next few weeks, so stop by the Blog for the latest and greatest tips to error-free articles. Use these tips to strengthen your writing skills, as well as maintain your credibility as an Expert Author.

Did you miss our last edition of Top Punctuation Howlers? Discover how to use an exclamation point here!

22 Comments »


1
Edmund Sykes writes:

“Periods always belong inside quotation marks.” I don’t necessarily agree with this, what if the quote does not stop with a period? For instance: EzineArticles say “Periods always belong inside quotation marks” but I disagree. The period is after the quotation marks and I don’t think this is wrong. Welcome the feedback. Regards. Edmund

Comment provided May 23, 2012 at 11:09 AM

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2
Susan Kramer writes:

I love these articles on punctuation and the miss-used words. Are they available in the ezine-publisher (like your authors) – they seem to be only on your blogs. I would like to share with my customers via an online newsletter. I always give your writers credit with their publish information. I am a graphic designer and printer, you have no idea how many errors I correct.

Comment provided May 23, 2012 at 12:11 PM

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Susan –

Those articles are only available on our blog. However, we welcome you to share them with your customers provided you include attribution to EzineArticles and provide a link back to the original article on our blog.

– Marc

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3
Paddy Landau writes:

“Periods always belong inside quotation marks.”

Interestingly, British English does not have this rule. The period (“full stop” to the British) goes in or out depending on whether or not it belongs with the quotation. This affects part-quotations.

Examples:

Cat owners will know that their cat sometimes brings a “present”.
The pun in Jane’s notice was, “No dogs aloud”.

Comment provided May 23, 2012 at 12:28 PM

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Elisabeth Kuhn writes:

About British English and American English – I learned the British version when I grew up in Germany, and it took me a LONG time to remember to put those quotation marks on the right side of periods. Or even to accept that this is the way I needed to use punctuation in the U.S.

About the word “Howlers” though… I appreciate the tips, but I would have expected “howlers” to be a whole lot funnier. Or am I misunderstanding the definition of the word?

Elisabeth

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Elisabeth –

Actually, a howler is defined as “a stupid or glaring mistake, esp. an amusing one.” In this case, I believe the word is appropriate.

– Marc

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4
Donna Thomas writes:

Re: your request for suggestions for future punctuation howlers, I would like more clarity on the use of single and double quotation marks. Also, appropriate use of the semi-colon and dash. Thanks!

Comment provided May 23, 2012 at 2:07 PM

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5

Placing the period inside the quotes was originally done by typesetters setting lead type because the period could easily be physically damaged if it was the last item on a line. It was NOT done for any language or logical reason. Being the revolutionary that I am, I now place the period according to context. As stated above, this is the standard in the UK. E.g. Baby cats are called “kittens”. Or, he said, “I am not staying.”

I am not familiar with the space before the ellipsis, only after. (Elisabeth Kuhn’s comment above uses an ellipsis without the leading space but with a trailing space.

I still put two spaces between each sentence… and then EzineArticles’ software graciously corrects it for me by changing it to one space. So that is an example of changing styles.

Comment provided May 23, 2012 at 2:43 PM

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6
Al McCartan writes:

Now! how about single v double quotes. When and where?

Comment provided May 23, 2012 at 3:03 PM

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Hassan Zutell writes:

I have the same question.

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7
Margie Riley writes:

Hello –

Interesting discussions, thank you. I’m not going to get engaged in the use of quotation marks as I was educated in England and now live in Australia, so use those rules.

Re abbreviations, are you referring to an abbreviation or a contraction? ‘Mr’ is a contraction of the word ‘mister’ and therefore the letters between the ‘m’ and the ‘r’ disappear and there is no need for the full stop/period(!). If it’s an abbreviation, as in ‘doc.’ for ‘doctor’, that’s different – the end of the word simply disappears and there is a need for the punctuation mark.

Single quotes are often used because there is only one keystroke involved. The time-and-motion people had a go at this years ago and when using double quotes you have to depress the Shift key as well as the quote key. Personally I use a single quote and then the double quote is there for those lovely bits of extra info for insertion into the text. Often it depends on the style of the publishing house/organisation involved and they will make the choice.

Comment provided May 23, 2012 at 5:45 PM

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8
Ken Christie writes:

In your email, you requested suggestions for other punctuation howlers.

How about the most misused and misunderstood of all punctuation and one that drives me crazy with frustration that writers don’t know to use it properly, and that is the “apostrophe”.

I admit, it is a little complicated, but the rules are plain and understandable.

I hope you decide to use my suggestion.

Thanks
Ken.

Comment provided May 23, 2012 at 6:42 PM

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9
Anita writes:

There is a slight confusion regarding.. when to use single and double inverted commas(quotes)

Comment provided May 23, 2012 at 9:25 PM

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10
Edmund Sykes writes:

Lynne Truss in Eats Shoots & Leaves says that double quote marks should be used for quotations and single quote marks for quotations within quotations (with which The Economist Style Guide agrees) and for defining a phrase such as ‘out of sorts’ meaning not feeling well. She points out that a single quote mark can be mistaken for an apostrophe. Being very old-fashioned I write ‘phone and ‘plane as the short form of telephone and aeroplane and refer to the plural of my family name as the Sykes’ came to stay last weekend. Hope this helps avoid the confusion.

Comment provided May 24, 2012 at 1:44 AM

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11
Russell writes:

Mr and Mrs do not require periods!
If treated like other shortened words, Mr would surely need to be written as M’r and Mrs as M’r’s: I find it strange that in America the period is used in this instance considering the general culling of english (colour becoming color etc).
Also, an article advocating the use of the semi-colon in lists may bring some sanity back into the English language.

Comment provided May 24, 2012 at 1:56 AM

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Paddy Landau writes:

Mr and Mrs used to require periods (UK as well as American English). A word can be shortened in two ways: either with the apostrophe (e.g. o’clock) or with a period (e.g. dorm.).

However, some years ago it became acceptable to omit the period for certain abbreviations, including titles.

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Russell writes:

Hi Paddy,

Yes, words can be shortened with either and apostrophe or a period, however there is a difference. A period is used when a word is shortened at the end (dorm.) and an apostrophe is used when letters are missing from the middle (o’clock). So why would Mr be Mr. and not M’r?

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Paddy Landau writes:

Russell,

“So why would Mr be Mr. and not M’r?”

Because it’s English, and English is full of exceptions! That’s about the best answer I can give.

I can only surmise that it would have been an extension of, say, Prof., which led to Dr., Mr., Mrs., and so forth. But that’s only a guess.

I was taught at school that Mr and Mrs were not in fact abbreviations at all. I think that was incorrect, as the Oxford English Dictionary says that Mr and Mrs were originally abbreviations for Master and Mistress respectively.

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12
Margie Riley writes:

Paddy hits the nail on the head – Mr and Mrs ‘used to have periods’. And that was what I was taught a l-o-n-g time ago. Some changes are for good and clarity, some are not. (See? these days I can start a sentence with the conjuction and not fear instant death.)

Apostrophes are really simple, as Ken states, once the easy rules are understood. Those are mistakes I am not happy to accept as the meaning of the sentences can be misconstrued or become ambiguous. Also, ignorance is displayed for all to see. Not a good look.

Bring back the universal teaching of grammar!

Comment provided May 24, 2012 at 4:21 PM

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13
Vijay Khosla writes:

Hello Friends,

The comments are quite educative. Yet, I may not agree with all of them (b’cause of the way, we were taught English in our school).

Regards,

Comment provided June 13, 2012 at 2:56 AM

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14
Randall Magwood writes:

You would think that it’s quite obvious that you should be using periods to separate sentences. But i’ve seen articles where the entire page is a LONG run-on sentence. Needless to say, i never vistited the website ever again.

Comment provided September 8, 2012 at 9:09 PM

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15
Edmund Sykes writes:

Then, Randall, you should never try “In search of lost time” by Marcel Proust.

Comment provided September 9, 2012 at 1:33 AM

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