I came across the idiom "to put a punctuation mark on something". Having googled a few examples of its usage, I am still not sure what exactly it means. Could you please explain its meaning?

I am especially interested in the meaning of "putting a punctuation mark on what one is feeling" in the following sentence related to self-harm:

It expresses emotional pain or feelings that I’m unable to put into words. It puts a punctuation mark on what I’m feeling on the inside!

(See http://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/cutting-and-self-harm.htm for the full context.)


Here are some other examples that I found using Google. For the first two examples I recommend to read the whole context.

Nelson Giants hammer Hawke's Bay Hawks to put punctuation mark on home season http://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/basketball/69757256/Nelson-Giants-hammer-Hawkes-Bay-Hawks-to-put-punctuation-mark-on-home-season

He’s not saying her name to say it but more to put punctuation mark on his statements. http://ficly.com/stories/26979

And as if all this weren't enough, Tolkien puts a punctuation mark on the brave, wonderful life that is Sam Gamgee's by having him not only marry the pretty Rose Cotton but have thirteen (!) children with her—Elanor, Frodo, Rose, Merry, [...]. It's hard to imagine a clearer or more winsome way for Tolkien to punctuate the novel's pro-fertility theme.

-- The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot by J. Richards and J. Witt

Basing on these examples, I would say that "putting a punctuation mark on something" means stressing/emphasizing/underlining some point or achievement. However, I am still not sure how to understand it in the sentence related to self-harm that is cited above.

  • What is "It"...?
    – user3169
    Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 20:47
  • I have heard "put a full stop on" something, meaning to finish a part of your life or close a subject. There are also expressions about putting a question mark on something , meaning to have doubts about something. You can also put something in quotes or in parentheses, with different meanings. But putting a punctuation mark? I don't know what it means, and I suspect that the writer does either.
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 21:01
  • @user3169 "It" refers to cutting onself (you can see the sentence in wider context here: helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/cutting-and-self-harm.htm). Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 18:21

1 Answer 1


Short answer: The cuts are visible marks to what he or she is feeling inside.

The above usage seems more literal than some others.

My best guess is that to put a punctuation mark on something means

to bring to (visible) completion


to (visibly) complete

A sentence is not complete until a punctuation mark is "put on it".

A couple other uses (from Vocabulary dot com):

Evan Berry put a punctuation mark on the blowout by returning one of Tennessee’s four interceptions 100 yards for a TD in the closing seconds.

Notice this is talking about an exceptional running play that produced more points in the blowout game, "in the closing seconds".

The use you found regarding the basketball team is similar, since it was the last home game of their season.

It used to be the family dinner was a given; the punctuation mark at the end of each day, absolute and non-negotiable.

Notice at the end of each day. So we're in the realm of something that completes something.

Wagner's final shot of the match, a grunting effortful bouncer that clipped Ian Bell, was a worthy punctuation mark to a grand effort.

NB his final shot

The riot was symptomatic of the area’s sense of isolation and served as a punctuation mark on 10 years of restiveness in Miami.

All my examples come from the same vocabulary dot com link; I had to scroll through the examples. Some refer to 'literal' punctuation marks.

As far as the example with cutting,

It expresses emotional pain or feelings that I’m unable to put into words. It puts a punctuation mark on what I’m feeling on the inside!

Could it (cutting oneself) be thought of as somehow completing what the person is "feeling on the inside"?That's not too satisfactory. However, if you consider punctuation mark in the more literal sense, as visible marks, then this is perhaps what this usage is doing. The cuts themselves are visible marks on what he or she is feeling inside.

So, I'll just add this, to put a punctuation mark on my answer:

It’s now official what many people had predicted: former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has ended her political tease — which helped her promote books and raise money for her political groups — and has formally announced that she is not going to run for the 2012 Republican nomination: ... The decision from Ms. Palin on Wednesday placed a punctuation mark on the Republican presidential field. Her intentions were the biggest remaining question in the race. [Emphases mine]

(The Moderate Voice, quoting The New York Times).

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