Today's lesson is perhaps one of the simplest of the basics of English composition: end punctuation. The marks used at the end of a sentence should be familiar to anyone who has studied English, but when and where to use them can still cause a bit of confusion now and again. So today we will go over when to use which punctuation mark at the end of your sentences.
What are all the marks that can be used to end a sentence?
The period, exclamation point, and question mark are the different punctuation marks that can be used to end sentences.
How do I know which one to use?
Let's start with the more specialized marks to keep things as simple as possible.
If the sentence is a question, you need a question mark.
When are we leaving?
What is your favorite color?
How do you do?
If the sentence conveys a great deal of excitement, vehemence, worry, or any other excess of emotion where it is likely to be yelled or said with a great amount of feeling, an exclamation point may be used.
The roof is on fire!
Stop running around the pool!
I made the team!
However, exclamation points should be used sparingly to retain their impact. Just think about it. Would you listen to someone who yelled everything they said? No, you'd probably get tired of them after a sentence or two and wander away, turn off the video, or put down their paper or book.
And for the sake of your credibility and the readability of your work, never use more than one exclamation point per sentence. It doesn't add emphasis. It just makes you look silly at best and illiterate at worst, depending on your audience.
End all other sentences with a period. The rule states they should be used for declarative sentences, which means it states a fact or makes a declaration of opinion. So, every sentence ever written or spoken that's not a question or exclamation in other words. The period is the catch all of end punctuation, and almost all of your sentences should end in one.
But what about...?
As with all things in the English language, there are bits that can be confusing. Let's go over them.
What do you do when a sentence is both a question and an exclamation? Just use an exclamation point. Questions are easier to pick up through word choice than an exclamation can be, so they are more easily omitted while still making the sentence understandable. There isn't a time when double end punctuation is used in formal writing, and I wouldn't suggest using the question mark, exclamation combo outside of text conversations with close friends and relatives who aren't going to judge you on the laps in grammar.
There is the interrobang, which is a mark that combines a question mark and an exclamation mark into this thing that looks kind of like a lobster clasp, but it's doesn't come on the standard keyboard. Besides, it's not needed when your writing is clear. Write the sentence so your reader cannot help but realize it is a sentence, and end with an exclamation to show it should be read with emphasis.
What about when a sentence ends with an abbreviation? Most of the time, simply let the last period in the abbreviation end the sentence. Resist the temptation to add another one. It'll just make it look like an incomplete ellipse. For questions or exclamations, add the correct mark after the abbreviation's final period.
I have to leave at 1 a.m.
Are you leaving at 1 a.m.?
You're leaving at 1 a.m.!
There's a quotation that ends in a question mark or exclamation at the end of my sentence. When the sentence would otherwise end with a period or the matching mark, let the mark within the quotation stand and put the quotation marks after it. If the sentence needs the other mark, keep the one within the quotation, put quotation marks after it, and then end with the needed mark.
That wasn't the easiest thing to describe, so here are some examples.
He said, "What is that?"
I can't believe you've never seen Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?!
Who screamed, "The sky is falling!"?
I know the last two there look really odd, but they're technically correct. It's not a commonly known rule though, so often a bit of rewording can help you avoid having to defend a series of punctuation marks that are grammatically correct.
The same rule holds true for titles ending with question marks or exclamation points.
What about a sentence ending with a quotation ending in a period? If your sentence needs a period at the end, put the period at the end of the quotation and close it with a quotation mark. If your sentence needs a question mark or exclamation point at the end, drop the period at the end of the quotation and put the end punctuation outside the quotation marks.
My favorite saying is, "A penny saved is a penny earned."
Who said, "A penny saved is a penny earned"?
I'm so sick of hearing, "A penny saved is a penny earned"!
Once again, end punctuation outside quotation marks will look wrong to many readers despite being technically correct. Be prepared to deal with this or reword your sentence.
When you have a quote that ends in an abbreviation, the rule is similar, but you never drop the abbreviation's final period.
Mom said, "My appointment is at 10 a.m."
Didn't you her say she "couldn't leave until at least 6 p.m."?
The reminder card says, "Please arrive no later than 9 a.m."!
What about sentences that end in parenthesis? No matter what punctuation is inside the parenthesis or needed to end the sentence, place the end punctuation outside the parenthesis. Although, please note, unless it contains an abbreviation any statement inside parenthesis, within a greater sentence, won't contain a period of its own.
So there you have the basics of end punctuation. If you have comments or questions, please leave them in the comment section below. I make an effort to respond to all comments within twenty-four hours.
A. B. England is a small business owner, mom of two, novelist, all around geek, and avid crafter. She loves mythology, fantasy, and all flavors of science fiction.
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