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What is a Full Stop?

The Full Stop - A Definition

An interesting question - what is a full stop?  In a literal sense, a full stop is a small dot that appears at the end of a sentence.  For this statement to be meaningful, we need to understand what the word ‘sentence’ means.  

The Cambridge online dictionary defines a sentence as,

“a group of words, usually containing a verb, that expresses a thought in the form of a statement, question, instruction, or exclamation and starts with a capital letter when written”

The full stop isn’t mentioned in this definition, due to the fact that full stops aren’t the only punctuation marks that  can end a sentence (question marks and exclamation marks being two obvious alternatives).  So, a full stop will therefore appear at the end of a statement that expresses a complete thought.

In literary terms, a statement will typically contain its own subject to establish what the statement is about and a verb to establish what the subject is doing.  The full stop is there to separate the statement from others, hopefully make the writing easier to understand by breaking a series of thoughts or ideas down.  This makes the full stop one of the most important and widely used punctuation marks, but also one of the first to be taught in the curriculum.

How to approach full stops in the classroom

The problem with teaching full stops, is that most people ‘just know’ when to use them.  As we can see above, that kind of thing isn’t always the easiest to break down.

Teaching full stops as places where we might need to take a breath, whilst not strictly accurate, can be a useful starting point.  Full stops do allow us a brief period (no pun intended to our American friends) to reflect on what a writer has said.  I like this approach, when coupled with the idea that a statement, or short sentence will typically express a single or full thought.  Pupils can then be encouraged to put together a series of thoughts in an attempt to form a basic paragraph.

It’s essential that the use of full stops in engrained from an early age because as we can see from so many social media posts, messages and texts, they’re pretty easy to forget.  And as we know from those messages, posts and texts, the thoughts, statements and ideas expressed are so much harder to understand.

Full stops are referenced in ‘The Punctuation Show' and covered in more detail in the 'KS1 Show'.

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