If a sentence otherwise ends with a question mark or exclamation point, the period is omitted.
I've never seen Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
I've never seen Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
He used to work at Yahoo!
He used to work at Yahoo!.
If a sentence ends with an abbreviation, the period used for the abbreviation also serves as the period for the sentence. This is true even if the abbreviation is contained within a quotation.
He is a vice president at Apple Inc.
He is a vice president at Apple Inc..
Laura said, “We will continue this tomorrow at 8:00 a.m.”
Laura said, “We will continue this tomorrow at 8:00 a.m.”.
An indirect question ends with a period, not a question mark.
What is she doing tonight?
I wonder what she’s doing tonight.
The question is, Does anyone support this legislation?
The question was whether anyone supported the legislation.
If a sentence ends with a parenthetical that is only part of a larger sentence, the period is placed outside the closing parenthesis.
An abbreviation is a short way of writing a word or a phrase that could a
be written out in full. So, for example, you might write Dr Kinsey inste
Doctor Kinsey. Here Dr is an abbreviation for the word Doctor. Likewise, the
phrase for example can sometimes be abbreviated to e.g.
Abbreviations must be clearly distinguished from contractions. The key difference is that an abbreviation does
not normally have a distinctive pronunciation of its own. So, for example, the
abbreviation Dr is pronounced just like Doctor, the abbreviation oz is
pronounced just like ounce(s) and the abbreviation e.g.
is pronounced just like
for example. (True, there are a few people who actually say “ee-jee” for the last
one, but this practice is decidedly unusual.
) A contraction, in contrast, does
have its own distinctive pronunciation: for example, the contraction can't is
pronounced differently from cannot, and the contraction she's is pronounced
differently from she is or she has.
Abbreviations are very rarely used in formal writing.
Almost the only
ones which are frequently used are the abbreviations for certain common titles,
when these are used with someone's name: Mr Willis, Dr Livingstone, Mrs
Thatcher, Ms Harmon, St Joan.
(Note that the two items Mrs and Ms are
conventionally treated as abbreviations, even though they can be written in no
) When writing about a French or Spanish person, you may use the
abbreviations for the French and Spanish equivalents of the English titles: M.
Mitterrand, Sr. González. (These are the usual French and Spanish
abbreviations for Monsieur and Señor, equivalent to English Mister.) Observe
that each of these abbreviations begins with a capital letter.
Other titles are sometimes abbreviated in the same way: Prof. Chomsky,
Sgt. Yorke, Mgr. Lindemann.
However, it is usually much better to write these
titles out in full when you are using them in a sentence: Professor Chomsky,
Sergeant Yorke, Monsignor Lindemann.
The abbreviated forms are best
confined to places like footnotes and captions of pictures.
Note carefully the use of full stops in these abbreviations.
favours omitting the full stop in abbreviations which include the first and last
letters of a single word, such as Mr, Mrs, Ms, Dr and St; American usage
prefers (A) Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr. and St., with full stops. Most other
abbreviated titles, however, require a full stop, as shown above.
A person's initials are a kind of abbreviation, and these are usually
followed by full stops: John D. Rockefeller, C. Aubrey Smith, O. J. Simpson.
Increasingly, however, there is a tendency to write such initials without full
stops: John D Rockefeller, C Aubrey Smith, O J Simpson.
And note the rare
special case illustrated by Harry S Truman: the S in this name never takes a full
stop, because it's not an abbreviation for anything; President Truman's parents
actually gave him the middle name S.
Two other common abbreviations are a.m. (`before noon') and p.m.
(`after noon'): 10.00 a.m., six p.m. These are always acceptable. Note that
these are not capitalized in British usage (though American usage prefers (A)
10.00 am and six pm, with small capitals and no full stops).
Also usual are the abbreviations b.c.
usually written in small
capitals, for marking dates
as before or after the birth of Christ:
According to tradition, Rome was founded in 753 b.c.
The emperor Vespasian died in a.d. 79. or
The emperor Vespasian died in 79 a.d.
It is traditional, and recommended, to write a.d. before the date, but
it is often written after.
Non-Christians who do not use the Christian calendar may prefer to use
(‘before the common era') and c.e. (‘of the common era') instead.
is always acceptable:
According to tradition, Rome was founded in 753 b.c.e.
The emperor Vespasian died in 79 c.e.
All four of these abbreviations are commonly written in small capitals,
and you should follow this practice if you can; if you can't produce
small capitals, use
full-sized capitals instead.
All four of them are also now very
frequently written without full stops: 753
bc, ad 79, 753 bce, 79 ce.
reflects the increasing tendency to omit the full stops in
abbreviations, and I
myself prefer to write 753 bc, and so on.
Note also that, when an abbreviation comes at the end of a sentence,
only one full stop is written. You should never write two full stops in a row.
Many large and well-known organizations and companies have very
long names which are commonly abbreviated to a set of initials written in capital
letters, usually with no full stops. Here are a few familiar examples:
BBC British Broadcasting Corporation
ICI Imperial Chemical Industries
FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation
RSPCA Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization
MIT Massachusetts Institute of Technology
TUC Trades Union Congress
These and some others are so famous that you can safely use the abbreviated
forms without explanation. But don't overdo it — not every reader will
recognize IRO as the International Refugee Organization, or IOOF as the
Independent Order of Odd Fellows (an American social and charitable
And, if you're writing for a non-British readership, you'd better
not use the abbreviated forms of specifically British institutions, such as the
TUC, without explaining them. If you are in doubt, explain the abbreviation
the first time you use it. (Note that a few of these were formerly written with
full stops, such as R.S.P.C.A.
, but this tiresome and unnecessary practice is
A few other abbreviations are so well known that you can use them
safely in your writing.
Every reader will understand what you mean by GCSE
examinations (GCSE = General Certificate of Secondary Education), or by
DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), or by IQ (intelligence quotient), or by
FM radio (FM = frequency modulation). Indeed, in some of these cases, the
abbreviated form of the name is far more familiar than the full name.
Otherwise, however, you should try to avoid the use of abbreviations in
your formal writing. The frequent use of unnecessary abbreviations will make
your text irritating and hard to read. So, you should write four ounces (not 4
), 80 miles per hour (not 80 mph), the Church of England (not the C of E),
the seventeenth century (not C17 or the 17th cent.) and the second volume (not
the 2nd vol.
) It is far more important to make your writing easy to read than to
save a few seconds in writing it.
There is one exception to this policy. In scientific writing, the names of
units are always abbreviated and always written without full stops or a plural s.
If you are doing scientific writing, then, you should conform by writing 5 kg
(not 5 kilogrammes, and certainly not *5 kg. or *5 kgs.
), 800 Hz (not 800
Hertz) and 17.3 cm3 (not 17.3 cubic centimetres).
There are a number of Latin abbreviations which are sometimes used in
English texts. Here are the commonest ones with their English equivalents:
e.g. for example
i.e. in other words
etc. and so forth
sc. which means
et al. and other people
The rule about using these Latin abbreviations is very simple: don't use
them. Their use is only appropriate in special circumstances in which brevity
is at a premium, such as in footnotes.
It is very poor style to spatter your page
with these things, and it could be disastrous to use them without being quite
sure what they mean. If you do use one, make sure you punctuate it correctly. Here is an example.
The recommended form is this:
Several British universities were founded in the Victorian era; for
example, the University of Manchester was established in 1851.
The following version is not wrong, but it is poor style:
Several British universities were founded in the Victorian era; e.g., the
University of Manchester was established in 1851.
But this next version is disastrously wrong, because the punctuation has been
*Several British universities were founded in the Victorian era e.g. the
University of Manchester was established in 1851.
Using a Latin abbreviation does not relieve you of the obligation of punctuating
your sentence. Again, if you avoid Latin abbreviations, you won't get into this
sort of trouble.
The abbreviation ca. `approximately' is properly used only in citing a
date which is not known exactly, and then usually only if the date is given in
The famous Basque cemetery of Argiñeta in Elorrio (ca. ad 883) shows tombs with sun-discs but no crosses.
Roger Bacon (ca. 1214–1294) was known as “the Admirable Doctor”.
Here the use of ca. shows that the date of the cemetery and the date of Bacon's
birth are not known exactly. If neither birth date nor death date is known for
sure, then each is preceded by ca.
Outside of parentheses, you should usually avoid the use of ca. and
prefer an English word like about or approximately:
The city of Bilbao was founded in about 1210.
Do not write “…in ca. 1210“.
The abbreviation etc. calls for special comment. It should never be
used in careful writing: it is vague and sloppy and, when applied to people,
rather offensive. Do not write something like this:
*Central Africa was explored by Livingstone, Stanley, Brazza, etc.
Instead, rewrite the sentence in a more explicit way:
Central Africa was explored by Livingstone, Stanley and Brazza,
among others. or
Central Africa was explored by several Europeans, including
Livingstone, Stanley and Brazza.
If you do find yourself using etc., for heaven's sake spell it and punctuate it
This is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase et cetera `and other
things', and it is pronounced ET SETRA, and not *EK SETRA. Do not write
ghastly things like *ect. or *e.t.c.
Such monstrosities make your writing look
hopelessly illiterate. Again, if you avoid Latin abbreviations, you won't fall
into such traps.
Finally, there are two further (and highly objectionable) Latin
abbreviations ibid. and op. cit.
Observe that it is usual to write Latin abbreviations in italics, but this is
not strictly essential, and many people don't bother.
There has recently been a fashion in some circles for writing Latin
abbreviations without full stops, and you may come across things like ie and eg
in your reading. I consider this a ghastly practice, and I urge you strongly not
to imitate it. (Note, however, that et al. has only one full stop, since et `and' is
a complete word in Latin.)
One final point: very many people who should know better use the Latin
abbreviation cf., which properly means `compare', merely to refer to published
work. It is now very common to see something like this:
*The Australian language Dyirbal has a remarkable gender system; cf.
This is quite wrong, since the writer is not inviting the reader to compare
Dixon's work with anything, but only to consult that work for more
information. Hence the correct form is this:
The Australian language Dyirbal has a remarkable gender system; see
This widespread blunder is a signal reminder of the danger of using Latin
abbreviations when you don't know what they mean. Far too many writers fall
into this trap, and write i.e. when they mean e.g., or something equally awful.
If you must use a Latin abbreviation, make sure you're using the right one.
most circumstances, though, you are best advised to avoid these abbreviations:
almost every one of them has a simple English equivalent which should usually
Summary of abbreviations:
- Do not use an abbreviation that can easily be avoided.
- In an abbreviation, use full stops and capital letters in the
- Do not forget to punctuate the rest of the sentence
Copyright © Larry Trask, 1997
Maintained by the Department of Informatics, University of Sussex
An abbreviation, simply put, is a shortened form of a word. In writing, abbreviations are useful when you need to squeeze a lot of writing into a small space. You can also use them in place of long or cumbersome phrases to make your sentences easier to read.
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One thing to remember about abbreviations is that certain ones are considered informal. If you are writing something very formal, it’s better to err on the side of spelling things out. The other thing to remember is that some readers may not know what an abbreviation means. If the abbreviation is obscure or unfamiliar, make sure to explain what it means the first time you use it.
Acronyms and Initialisms
Abbreviations come in a few different varieties. Both acronyms and initialisms are abbreviations that are formed by combining the first letter of each word in a longer name or phrase. Typically, acronyms and initialisms are written in all capital letters to distinguish them from ordinary words.
An acronym is pronounced as a single word, rather than as a series of letters. NASA, for instance, is an acronym. It stands for National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Occasionally, an acronym becomes so commonplace that it evolves into an ordinary word that people no longer think of as an acronym.
The words scuba and laser, for instance, originated as acronyms (self contained underwater breathing apparatus and light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation, respectively).
Mrs., Mr., Ms., Prof., Dr., Gen., Rep., Sen., St. (for Saint)
Notice that Miss is not an abbreviation, so we don't put a period after it. Ms. is not an abbreviation, either, but we do use a period after it — probably to keep it consistent with Mr. and Mrs.
The plural of Mr. is Messrs. (We invited Messrs. Carter, Lincoln, and Ford.) The plural of Dr. is Drs. (We consulted Drs. Carter, Lincoln, and Ford.) The plural of Mrs. is Mmes or Mmes. (with or without the period).
In most formal prose, we do not use titles, abbreviated or otherwise, with individuals. Ms. Emily Dickinson is simply Emily Dickinson, and after the first use of her full name, Dickinson will do (unless we need Emily to avoid confusion with other Dickinsons).
The abbreviations Rev. and Hon. (for Reverend and Honorable) are not, strictly speaking, titles; they are adjectives. In informal language or when we're trying to save space or make a list, we can write Rev. Alan B. Darling and Hon. Francisco Gonzales.
In formal text, we would write “the Reverend Alan B. Darling” and “the Honorable Francisco Gonzales” (i.e., it's not a good idea to abbreviate either Reverend or Honorable when these words are preceded by “the”).
Incidentally, we cannot say “We invited the reverend to dinner” and only a cad would invite “the rev.”
Titles after names:
Sr., Jr., Ph.D., M.D., B.A., M.A., D.D.S.
These are standard abbreviations, with periods. The APA Publication Manual recommends not using periods with degrees; other reference manuals do recommend using periods, so use your own judgment on this issue.
All sources advise against using titles before and after a name at the same time (i.e., she can be Dr. Juanita Espinoza or Juanita Espinoza, PhD, but she cannot be Dr. Juanita Espinoza, PhD).
And we do not abbreviate a title that isn't attached to a name: “We went to see the doctor (not dr.) yesterday.”
The Chicago Manual of Style recommends not using a comma to separate the Jr./Sr./III from the last name, but you should follow the preferences of the indivdual if you know those preferences. If you list a “junior” with his spouse, the “Jr.
” can go after both names, as in “Mr. and Mrs. Arthur C. Banks Jr.” or “Mr. Arthur C. Banks Jr. and Gloria Banks — but not Arthur C. and Gloria Banks Jr. You should avoid using a “Jr.” or “Sr.” when you have only the last name — Mr. Banks Jr.
|Have you ever run across an acronym or abbreviation and not known what it means? Try using the Acronym Finder|
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Monday, November 22, 2010
A period should be placed after an initial and after most abbreviations.
Note: When an abbreviation is the last word in a sentence, do not add a second period.
Tom recently received his M.B.A.
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