Saturday, May 12, 2007

When a Period is More Than a Dot

by Lu Ann Staheli

We live in a world, and the punctuation mark that was once known simply as a period is now more important than ever.

Unfortunately, many writers still don’t understand the importance of this little punctuation mark, often forgetting to use it at all, or misusing it like crazy in its other forms.

Here’s a simple review of the period and how to use it.

Without a doubt, the most common use of the period is to end a sentence that makes a statement.

Example: This is a statement.

Periods may also be used as an end mark for an imperative sentence, one that has a sense of urgency.

Example: Read this short story for tomorrow.

Use the period when using initials.

Example: George W. Bush

The period is also essential to the abbreviation, letting readers know that the series of letters actually refers to additional letters which help them pronounce the abbreviation.

Example: Dr. actually stands for doctor.

Without a doubt, the biggest misuse of the period from novice writers is in the ellipsis, a way to indicate you are omitting words during a quote. The ellipsis consists of three evenly spaced periods with spaces between the ellipsis and surrounding letters or other marks.

Example: “We the people . . . , in order to form a more perfect union . . .”

An ellipsis can also be used to indicate a pause in the flow of a sentence and is especially useful in dialogue.

Example: Abraham Lincoln, in his Gettysburg address, said, “. . . our fathers brought forth . . . a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that 'all men are created equal.'”

In math, Americans use the period as a decimal point for partial amounts of a whole, such as in money.

Example: 3.14159 or $100.00

In computing, the period—called a dot in this case—is often used as a boundary indicator when looking up domain names and file names.


The next time you use a period, give the mark the respect it deserves because that little spot of ink can make all the difference when it comes to understanding text, math, and code.

1 comment:

Heather B. Moore said...

Very interesting, LuAnn. I've second-guessed myself when using an ellipsis followed by a comma. Thanks for the clarification.