There are three punctuation marks that come at the end of a sentence: the period ( . ), the question mark ( ? ), and the exclamation point ( ! ). A sentence is always followed by a single space, no matter what the concluding punctuation is.
Periods indicate a neutral sentence, and as such are by far the most common ending punctuation mark. They’re at the end of every sentence on this page so far. They occur at the end of statements.
A question mark comes at the end of a question (How was class today?). A rhetorical question is asked to make a point, and an answer is not expected (Why does it always have to rain on the first day of class?). Some questions are used principally as polite requests (Would you pass the salt?).
All of these questions can be categorized as direct questions, and all of these questions require a question mark at their ends.
Indirect questions do not have question marks at their ends. They can be used in many of the same ways as declarative ones, but they often emphasize uncertainty or lack of knowledge:
- I can’t guess how Tamika managed it.
- I wonder whether I looked that bad.
- Cecil asked where the reports were.
Notice that different word order is used in direct and indirect questions: in direct questions, the verb usually comes before the subject, while in indirect questions, the verb appears second.
The exclamation point is a punctuation mark usually used after an interjection or exclamation to indicate strong feelings or high volume, and it often marks the end of a sentence. You’ve likely seen it overused on the internet.
While this kind of statement is excessive, there are appropriate ways to use exclamation points. A sentence ending in an exclamation mark may be an exclamation (such as “Wow!” or “Boo!”), or an imperative (“Stop!”), or it may indicate astonishment: “They were the footprints of a gigantic duck!”
The exclamation mark is sometimes used in conjunction with the question mark convey protest or astonishment (“Of all the coffee shops, you want to meet at the Pied Cow?!”).
Exclamation marks may be repeated for additional emphasis (“That’s great!!!”), but this practice is generally appropriate only in casual or informal writing, such as text messaging or online communication with friends and family.
Are ending punctuation marks used appropriately in these sentences? Explain why or why not. The sentences have been numbered to aid you in your comments:
(1) One famous eighteenth-century Thoroughbred racehorse was named Potoooooooo, or Pot-8-Os! (2) He was a chestnut colt bred by Willoughby Bertie, 4th Earl of Abingdon, in 1773, and he was known for his defeat of some of the greatest racehorses of the time. (3) With a well-to-do background like this, where do you suppose his strange name came from.
(4) The horse once had a stable lad, who facetiously misspelled Potatoes. (5) Apparently, the owner thought the misspelling was funny enough to adopt it as the horse’s real name!
The exclamation point at the end of sentence 1 isn’t needed. While the name is strange, we haven’t learned enough about the horse yet to warrant an exclamation point.
Sentence 3 should end with a question mark: it’s a direct question.
Sentence 5 may or may not need an exclamation point. It depends on two different things: the context of the writing and the amount of emphasis you want to give the sentence. How much emphasis you want is up to you: do you think the fact is amusing enough to warrant an exclamation point? The context you’re writing in will be a more objective criterion to help you make your decision. In a formal academic setting, such as an English paper, the exclamation point would likely feel out of place. However, if you were writing on your personal semi-professional blog, the exclamation point would probably fit in just fine.
Occasionally, you’ll encounter cases that seem to require multiple punctuation marks right next to each other. Sometimes you need to keep all the marks, but other times, you should leave some out.
In general, you should not use more than one ending punctuation mark (period, question mark, exclamation point) in a row. If you are quoting a question, it should end with a question mark, not a question mark and a period. If an abbreviation, like etc., ends a sentence, you should use only one period.
- Carlos leaned forward and asked, “Did you get the answer to number six?”
- I think we’ll have enough food. Mary bought the whole store: chips, soda, candy, cereal, etc.
However, you can place a comma immediately after a period, as you can see above with etc. This rule also applies to the abbreviations e.g. and i.e.
Periods and parentheses can also appear right next to each other. Sometimes the period comes after the closing parenthesis, but sometimes it appears inside the parentheses. (This is an example of a sentence in which the period falls within the parentheses.) We’ll learn more about this in Brackets, Parentheses, and Ellipses.
Identify punctuation errors in the following sentences. Type the corrected sentences in the text frame below:
- Dana had a lot of skills: reading, writing, note-taking, listening, etc..
- My sister looked over and asked, “Why do you have so many grapes in the shopping cart?.”
- Lucinda was the reigning Spring Queen (i.e. she had won the student vote at the last spring dance).
- Dana had a lot of skills: reading, writing, note-taking, listening, etc.
- There should only be one period at the end of a sentence.
- My sister looked over and asked, “Why do you have so many grapes in the shopping cart?”
- Since a question mark can mark the end of a sentence, there is no need for a period here.
- If you wanted to change this sentence to an indirect question, you could rewrite it this way: My sister looked over and asked why I had so many grapes in the shopping cart.
- Lucinda was the reigning Spring Queen (i.e., she had won the student vote at the last spring dance).
- There should be a comma following the second period of the abbreviation i.e.