P8: Choosing Correct End Punctuation

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

  1. Use periods correctly.
  2. Use question marks correctly.
  3. Use exclamation points correctly.

You have three choices for end punctuation: periods, question marks, and exclamation points. End punctuation gives readers information about how to read a sentence and how to interpret the sentence.

Using Periods

Periods have three main uses: punctuating many abbreviations, marking the end of many sentences, and separating components in reference citations.

Some abbreviations take periods all the time, while some never take periods. You simply have to learn the category of each abbreviation or look them up as you use them.

Examples

Examples of abbreviations that end in periods: approx., Ave., Dr., etc., Jr., Mrs., Univ.

Many acronyms do not include periods: LBJ, MLK, N/A, NV, TV, DVD, IBM, UK, USA, CEO, COD, RSVP

Periods end sentences that are not questions or exclamations, such as statements, commands, and requests.

  • Statements
    • To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the early 1930s.
  • Commands
    • Over the weekend, read the first four chapters.
  • Requests
    • Please let me know at what parts of the book you get confused.

In reference citations, use periods to separate components.

Examples

MLA: Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird, HarperCollins, 2002.

OR

APA: Lee, H. (2002). To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: HarperCollins.

CMS: Lee, Harper. 2002. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: HarperCollins.

Using Question Marks

Question marks have one main use: to end sentences that ask direct questions. They are also sometimes used to indicate questions in a series.

  • Question mark at the end of a sentence
    • Do you think Atticus encouraged Scout to be mature beyond her years, or do you think it just came naturally to Scout?
  • Question marks in a series
    • We should go to the city council meeting with three basic questions: should the housing development be placed so close to the wildlife preserve?, could a better location be found?, and how much time do we have to come up with alternatives?

When you choose to use a question mark at the end of a sentence, make sure the sentence is actually a sentence since some sentences give a sense of being a question when they are not. Such sentences are called indirect questions.

Example

Jem asked Scout what she was thinking?

Correction: Jem asked Scout what she was thinking.

Using Exclamation Points

Exclamation points are a method of showing surprise or strong emotions in writing. To preserve the impact of an exclamation point, you should use them sparingly. Besides lessening their impact, the use of too many exclamation points is distracting for readers.

Examples

Overuse of exclamation points: This course has been very engaging! There’s never been a dull moment! The instructor has always been very helpful! She’s always there when you need her!

Proper use of exclamation points: The national debt stacked in dollar bills would be high enough to reach the moon—and back!

Khan Academy has more examples illustrating the three different ways to end a sentence:

“Three Ways to End a Sentence.” Published by Khan Academy.

Adapted from “Punctuation” in Writer’s Handbook v 1.0 used according to Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

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