End Mark Punctuation: Periods, Exclamation Marks, and Question Marks


In editing other people’s sentences we are frequently required to impose some order through the correct use of periods, exclamation marks and question marks. Below find an end mark punctuation guide to help you in your writing.

The period marks the end of a statement that declares something, e.g. milk is white. The period closes a sentence that gives a command. Think about this.

Note that the period precedes any closing quotation marks, as in this 1858 quotation from Abraham Lincoln:

“You may fool the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

Exclamatory sentences expressing strong feelings close with an exclamation mark, e.g.

I’ve won a million dollars!

To be effective, exclamation marks need to be used sparingly. Consider this excessive use of them in Henry Ford’s famous phrase: “Exercise is bunk! If you are healthy, you don’t need it! If you are sick, you shouldn’t take it!”

Question marks indicate the end of a direct question, e.g. How much does it cost?

An indirect question never takes a question mark, e.g. Tell me where is fancy bred.

A request courteously disguised as a question does not require a question mark, e.g. May I ask you to look at the following.

A question that is essentially an exclamation ends with an exclamation mark.

“Are you sure this is a good idea!” I yelled to the diving instructor.

When you are using direct speech, periods, exclamation marks and question marks should be placed inside the quotation marks when they are part of the quoted or parenthetical material.

The wizard exclaimed, “The goblins are poisoning the forest!”

The policeman actually responded, “I thought that this was acceptable behavior”!

Similarly, periods, exclamation marks and question marks should be placed inside brackets when they are part of the parenthetical material.

My co-worker (I could have died!) repeated the entire story.

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