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’ve been at the end of every sentence on this page so far. They occur at the end of statements.
Occasionally, you’ll come across an instance that seems 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.
You should never use more than one ending punctuation mark in a row (period, question mark exclamation point). When quoting a question, you would end with a question mark, not a question mark and a period. If an abbreviation, like etc., ends a sentence, you should only use 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.
For those who are curious, e.g. stands for exempli gratia, which means “for example,” and i.e. stands for id est, which means “that is.”
Periods and parentheses can also appear right next to each other. Sometimes the period comes after the closing parenthesis (as you can see earlier in this section), but sometimes it appears inside the parentheses. (This is an example of a sentence where the period falls within the parentheses.) We’ll learn more about this in Text: Parentheses and Brackets.
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.
- 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.
A question mark comes at the end of a question. A question is a request for information. The information requested should be provided in the form of an answer.
A rhetorical question is asked to make a point, and does not expect an answer (often the answer is implied or obvious). Some questions are used principally as polite requests (e.g., “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 can be used in many of the same ways as direct ones, but they often emphasize knowledge 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.
Such clauses correspond to direct questions, which are questions actually asked. The direct questions corresponding to the examples above are How did Tamika manage it? Did I look that bad? Where are the reports? Notice how different word order is used in direct and indirect questions: in direct questions the verb usually comes before the subject, while indirect questions the verb appears second. Additionally, question marks should not be used at the end of indirect questions.
Are the following sentences declarative or indirect sentences? Which need a question mark at the end?
- Jackie wondered where her keys were
- Can you pass the butter
- Is anyone here
- Megan asked how you were doing
- Why won’t you admit I’m right
- Indirect; no question mark
- Declarative; Can you pass the butter?
- Declarative; Is anyone here?
- Indirect; no question mark
- Declarative; Why won’t you admit I’m right?
The exclamation point is a punctuation mark usually used after an interjection or exclamation to indicate strong feelings or high volume, and often marks the end of a sentence. You’ve likely seen this overused on the internet:
!!!! !! I’m jUST SO!!!!!!
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 may indicate astonishment: “They were the footprints of a gigantic duck!” Exclamation marks are occasionally placed mid-sentence with a function similar to a comma, for dramatic effect, although this usage is rare: “On the walk, oh! there was a frightful noise.”
Informally, exclamation marks may be repeated for additional emphasis (“That’s great!!!”), but this practice is generally considered only acceptable in casual or informal writing, such as text messages or online communication with friends and family.
The exclamation mark is sometimes used in conjunction with the question mark. This can be in protest or astonishment (“Out of all places, the water-hole?!”).
Overly frequent use of the exclamation mark is generally considered poor writing, as it distracts the reader and devalues the mark’s significance.
Cut out all these exclamation points. . . . An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald
Some authors, however, most notably Tom Wolfe and Madison Acampora, are known for unashamedly liberal use of the exclamation mark. In comic books, the very frequent use of exclamation mark is common.
Are exclamation points used appropriately in these sentences? Explain why or why not.
- Wow! Simone gave each of her friends fifty dollars!
- Is it too much if I send a text that says, “Hey!!! I loved the play last night!!!!!”?
- Juanita fell down the stairs!
- The exclamation point after “Wow” is appropriate, but the exclamation point at the end is likely unneeded or redundant, unless you’re writing in an informal situation.
- While there’s a lot of punctuation, the sentence is technically correct. However, if someone was asking you if there was too much punctuation, you may want to advise them away from that many exclamation points.
- While the exclamation point may be appropriate in some contexts—if Juanita is normally graceful, or if Juanita had already fallen down several times that day—in most cases, this sentence should just end with a period.