Back to the Basics: The Period


As writers continue to write, editors continue to edit, publishers continue to publish, and readers continue to read…we all know that one person in this circle of publishing life who puts their finger to the page, looks up and says, There’s supposed to be a period here.

Oh, the punctuation that puts all other punctuation symbols to shame. The period, the dot, the endless black abyss which, ironically, ends it all.

Have you ever had that writers’ block moment where you seem to forget all your basic elementary school punctuation lessons and what purpose they serve you? It’s always a little embarrassing to see that one Amazon reviewer point out the silliest of grammar mistakes. There are so many different grammar rules, exceptions, and do’s/don’ts that well…who can keep track, right? Some grammar mistakes are so small (literally) that it’s hard for the author themselves to notice, especially when they are more focused on the actual story. Today, we are going to break down that dreaded black dot for you:

  • Multiple Punctuation: For one, I am GUILTY when it comes to accidentally putting more than one punctuation at the end of a sentence. Most of the time, it’s without even thinking. Plenty of people get mixed up in this business, but let me clear it up for you: if you’re ending a sentence with a book name or company name (that includes another punctuation like a question mark or exclamation point in the title), the period isn’t needed anymore! The same thing happens with a sentence ending in an abbreviation. Begone black abyss!
  • Direct and Indirect Questions: Direct questions end with a question mark. Indirect questions end in a period. What a way to end an implied question – leave your reader hanging and wondering about the question you put before them, without even asking!
  • Proper Placement…: This part is broken up into two: proper placement with parentheses and quotation marks. The period becomes confusing when it comes to proper placement with symbols that set parts of the sentence apart from the rest.
    • Parentheses: If the parentheses are being used within a sentence, to embrace a bigger part of the picture, the period will follow the (closing) (On the contrary, if whatever content is being held within the parentheses can stand alone, then the period is used before the closing parenthesis.)
    • Quotation Marks: Ending your sentence in quoted material? The period stays within the quotation marks and not outside of them. The same thing goes if the quote ends in another punctuation. Nothing more, nothing less. Don’t use the period – it’s being dismissed!
  • Abbreviations: Since I briefly mentioned ending a sentence with an abbreviation, let’s talk about the abbreviation alone. Some have periods, some don’t. Why is that? I don’t know the answer to that necessarily, but I do know when to use a period within the abbreviations and when not to. The only time you should use a period with an abbreviation is if the letters involved are lowercase or mixed-case. But pay attention to the content of the abbreviation. Ask yourself if it’s scientific or technical. If it is, you won’t need the period. Uppercase abbreviations, like an academic degree following an individual’s name, may include a period.

Even after going over the basics of the period, thinking about where it goes and when to use it still makes me put a hand to my forehead, shake my head, and say, “Oh, the English language. How complex can you be?”

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