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The main purpose of the period is to mark the end of an affirmative sentence or sentence fragment:

  • The executive assistant was hired on the strength of his curriculum vitae. No interview or examination. Just an analysis of his file.

The period is a "full stop." It stops the reader more fully than the colon, semicolon, comma or dash. Each of these marks of punctuation may, in many circumstances, be used in place of one of the others in order to lessen or intensify a break in the flow of the sentence or passage.

In the following examples the period has replaced a weaker mark of punctuation in order to slow the reader down and focus his or her attention:

  • The wheels of government grind exceeding slow. And with good reason.
  • I don’t know if you know the mental effect of a bromoseltzer. But it’s a hard thing to commit suicide on. You can’t. You feel so buoyant. (Stephen Leacock)

In the following examples, the period has itself been replaced by a weaker mark of punctuation in order to bring the elements into a closer relationship:

  • He never drew the wrong conclusions—he never drew any conclusions at all.
  • The parliamentary process is either exciting or efficient; efficient is better.

Imperatives, exclamations and indirect questions

Use a period after a mild imperative or exclamation:

  • If you want to know who is going to change this country, go home and look in the mirror. (Maude Barlow)
  • U-turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning. (Margaret Thatcher)

A sentence that is interrogative in form may actually act as an imperative and thus take a period:

  • Will you come this way, please.

Indirect questions are affirmative sentences and normally take a period, not a question mark:

  • It is important for managers to ask why annual performance objectives have not been met.

Ellipsis points

Use three ellipsis points (…) to indicate a silence in dialogue, hesitation or interruption in speech, a pause in narrative, or the passage of time. Used in this way, they are sometimes also referred to as suspension points:

  • "What is your approach to self-actualization?"
    " … "
    "Let me rephrase that."
  • The Minister’s speech dragged on and on… until, finally, the TV announcer’s voice broke the monotony.

Ellipsis points may be substituted for etc. and similar expressions at the end of a list:

  • nuts
  • bolts
  • screws

Do not use ellipsis points to imply hidden meanings or to separate groups of words for emphasis, as is often done in advertising.

For the use of ellipsis points to indicate omissions in quotations, see QUOTATIONS: OMISSIONS.


A row of dots (or short dashes), called leaders, is used in indexes and tables, including tables of contents, to help the reader align material separated by a wide space:

  • Adjectives ..................................... 10
    Adverbs ........................................ 11

A series of dots is sometimes used in place of underlining to indicate where information (or a signature) is to be entered on a form:

  • Suggestion No. ......................................
    Approved by .........................................

Other uses

Periods may replace parentheses after numerals or letters used to introduce items in a vertical list:

  1. Logic
  2. Grammar
    • a. relative clause
    • b. subordinate clause

A run-in sidehead should be followed by a period:

  • Punctuation. Punctuation is the art of . . . .
  • Fig. 3. Human resources by sector

Periods properly omitted

Do not use a period at the end of any form of heading (other than run-in sideheads), legend or the like, or after a date line or signature:

  • Summary of Expenditures
  • June 22, 1996

Short signboard messages do not require a final period:

  • No Trespassing
  • Employees Only

Do not use periods with the following:

  • acronyms and initialisms
    • NATO
    • OECD
  • abbreviations of compass directions (except in street addresses that do not appear on envelopes or packages)
    • NE
  • degrees, memberships and distinctions
    • BSc
    • MA
    • FRSC
  • SI/metric unit symbols
    • cm
  • chemical symbols
    • NaCl
  • mathematical abbreviations
    • cos