Text talk

For our younger generation, using punctuation can sometimes be taken as rudeness

By Denise Waldron

Do you end your sentences with a period when texting? While most adults know that texting in full caps equates to yelling, many haven’t gotten the message that ending with a full stop may come across as angry, rude or passive-aggressive. 

For many Gen Z teens and young adults, periods at the end of a text set the tone.

(Generation Zed came right after millennials and are those who are aged nine to 24, born between 1997 and 2012.)

When speaking in person, people rely on tone of voice, volume, facial expressions, and body language for cues. With texting, people aren’t able to discern these cues. 

Gen Z texters have co-opted punctuation and emojis to convey emotion and research backs this up. A team of psychologists at Binghamton University in New York studied this among the school’s students. According to the study, cues such as asterisks, emoticons, punctuation, and letter repetition, may play a strong practical role in texted conversations. When the exchanges appeared as text messages, the responses that ended with a period were rated as less sincere than those that did not end with a period. They found no such difference in handwritten notes. The results strongly suggest that ditching the period is the best course of action in text exchanges.

Avery Tzountzouris of Little Britain.

Avery Tzountzouris of Little Britain, says many friends think periods at the end of a sentence are just silly, but can also convey seriousness. “I am more likely to use one if I feel like I’m in a more serious situation, like a fight or something.” 

The thirteen-year-old says you really need to know the circumstances of the situation. “It’s really hard to know what someone means, and that’s why a lot of times there can be miscommunications in texting.” She feels cyberbullying can happen because of the amount of texting teens partake in and mistaken interpretations.

It’s not just the humble period that has new meaning — the exclamation mark can denote anger or frustration with young texters, “You have to be careful how you use it,” said Tzountzouris.

While some younger adults may mock adults for using emojis, the Grade 8 student says she doesn’t and says it’s a good way to “convey emotion and it definitely helps with clarity over text.”

Grammar police and Grade 1 teachers may also cringe at run-on sentences without punctuation or capitals that seem to be the domain of young texters. While it may be easy to write off the senders as lazy, Tzountzouris says while that is partially true, she and her friends find punctuation and capitalization too formal and whip off quick texts knowing their friends don’t care and will understand what is being said in the messy word salad. 

What happens when these texters must email a teacher or supervisor? A local government worker who wants to remain anonymous for professional reasons, recently took a new hire to task for using sloppy texting language and missing punctuation in a work email. 

Tzountzouris says when she is using email, she is usually talking to a teacher or someone like that and uses proper grammar and spelling.

Teacher Sharon Nielsen has taught elementary school for 21 years. She is currently a teaching and learning coach for the Trillium Lakelands District School Board. She says they teach students in Grade 1 to start sentences with capital letters and end with punctuation. They reinforce this in Grades 2-8. Despite this, she says, “Most students have so much to say and not much patience, and they have developed shorthands that don’t support the proper grammar structure taught in schools.” 

For students struggling academically for a variety of different reasons, this is reflected in how they write on paper too, says Nielsen. “Especially those who require assistive tech, they may have trouble getting their thoughts on paper because the computer doesn’t understand their abbreviations.” 

Nielsen says most local elementary schools ban phones in the classroom to cut down on the amount of texting. They give students caught with their phones in class a warning. The second occurrence sees the phone confiscated.

Tzountzouris says there are other ways to text and says it’s very easy to manipulate adults into thinking that teens don’t text as much as they do.

“Kids text a lot more than people know,” adding a lot of times it’s very easy to hide from adults what they’re texting because of apps like Snapchat (where messages are deleted automatically) and i-message (where they can manually delete things.)

Elder Gen Z student Vanessa Smith is 24 and a third-year Fleming student in Lindsay. She says, omitting full stops at the end of a sentence looks more hostile, but it depends on the context, “Because we’re so used to not using periods, so when people do it, it just looks more aggressive. I’m personally not really offended by it.”

Smith thinks punctuation is more of a bother and “it’s quicker to text without it,” but she knows older texters like her mom that do and she does not give it a second thought that the message is confrontational if ended with a period. 

Perhaps the good news is that studies from psychologists Gene Ouellette and Melissa Michaud have shown that the poor use of grammar in texting has little to do with how someone will score on spelling, reading, and vocabulary tests.

So maybe instead of disparaging run-on sentences and the lack of punctuation in texts, we should embrace the changing nature of language as it’s been happening for thousands of years.

Knowing when a period might show aggression or insincerity is a start.


  1. Suzanne Pychel says:

    Another great article by Denise!

  2. Donna Leslie says:

    That was fascinating. The last three paragraphs are so important and a huge relief to those of us at a certain age, who sincerely worry about the effects of non punctuation and non grammatical correctness on scholastic performance.

  3. I dunno. I think it is more fashion than anything although sure, language evolves, probably because of generational fashion. Each generation develops its own communications fashion that excludes the older folks. It’s a tactic of independence. But if we want to get along, if we want to be inclusive, we should probably give each other the benefit of the doubt.

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