English punctuation

Throughout the English speaking world, there are many subtle differences in grammar and spelling that you need to be aware of.

A punctuation mark that is used differently on either side of the Atlantic ‘pond’ is the ‘full stop’ (UK) or ‘period’ (US).

The full stop, ‘.’, is used to denote the end of a sentence. Generally speaking, the former is more prevalent in Australia, Britain, Ireland and New Zealand; the latter is the preferred term in the United States and Canada.

Quotation Marks

Perhaps the most significant difference in the usage of the full stop is with quotations. It is important for writers to be aware of this when exchanging articles across the Atlantic. In American English, the full stop is nearly always inside the quotation mark, regardless of whether it existed in the source.

Joe Bloggs stated ‘Tomatoes are a fruit.’ (American)

However, in British English, it is more common to use ‘logical quotes’. This means that the decision on whether to put the full stop in or outside of the quote depends on the source. Logical quotes are increasingly being used by some house styles in America, particularly in science. Notice in the first of the following examples that the quote is only a snippet of an incomplete sentence. Therefore, a full stop is not included in the quote – it was not in the source.

Joe Bloggs stated ‘Tomatoes are a fruit’. (British)
Joe Bloggs stated ‘Tomatoes are a fruit because the seeds are found in the flower.’ (British)

Abbreviations and Contractions

In American English, it is common to follow an abbreviation or contraction with a full stop. Some British English writers follow this usage, particularly the older generations. This includes titles such as ‘Dr.’ and ‘Mr.’

In British English, a common convention is to omit the full stop if the abbreviation or contraction ends in the same letter as the original word (e.g., ‘Dr’ or ‘Mr’). However, if the last letter has been altered, a full stop is included (e.g., ‘Prof.’)


The full stop is used in both American and British English to denote a decimal figure e.g., ‘9.99’, but we don't call it a full stop, we call it a decimal point, or point for short. However, our friends on the European continent often use a comma to show this e.g., ‘9,99’.


As English is constantly evolving and varies between institutions, you need to understand how to translate the literature. Whatever the national or house style dictates, you should be consistent in your writing.

About the Author:
Written by Charlotte Beckham who is a proofreading professional at Cambridge Proofreading Company. Published with permission.