Punctuation: End Marks



Try to control your enthusiasm, but I am going to publish several posts about the fabulous, incredible, dazzling world of – wait for it – punctuation marks!

Okay, punctuation isn’t the most exciting thing in the world, but it’s important. Not Middle-East-peace important or Supreme-Court-nomination important, but at least Taylor-Swift’s-latest-break-up important.

Thats fine you dont have to think of punctuation as important but I’m telling you that without punctuation reading would be difficult it would be hard to know when to pause or stop or how words and word groups relate to each other wouldn’t it it would be annoying in fact in many cases it would be nearly impossible to tell what a writer is trying to say to write without punctuation is to invite confusion and misinterpretation dont you agree

That’s enough of that. You get the point. And speaking of points — let’s talk about end marks.

You likely won’t learn anything new in this lesson. We assume you can already define and use the three end marks: periods (.), exclamation points (!) and question marks (?). But there’s no harm in reviewing. Here’s a brief summary and a point or two about these familiar punctuation marks.


Periods, known as full stops in the U.K., come at the end of most sentences. They indicate that a complete idea has come to an end. Periods are used for other purposes also — after numbers in outlines and lists and  in abbreviations. But the most important use is to indicate the end of a complete thought.

Note: If you mistakenly use a comma instead of a period at the end of a complete thought, you create a common type of run-on sentence called a comma splice. We’ll talk about commas in a future lesson, but be careful to use periods when a sentence is complete.

Correct: I watched the baby bird. He was learning to fly.

Comma splice:  I watched the baby bird, he was learning to fly.

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Exclamation Points

Exclamation points are used after interjections or exclamatory sentences. They indicate strong emotion.

Tip: Exclamation points are commonly overused by student writers. They should appear only rarely in most types of formal writing. Students often use exclamation points simply to add emphasis. If your words are chosen carefully and arranged meaningfully, you can trust the emphasis will be clear. Save your exclamation points for infrequent, genuine exclamations. One more thing: it is never necessary to use more than one exclamation point in formal writing.

Yuck: My hog won a blue ribbon and I was so excited!!!

Yay: I was elated when my hog was awarded the blue ribbon.

Yippy: When my hog won the blue ribbon, I shouted, “Yeehaw!”

Question Marks

Question marks are used at the end of interrogative sentences. They indicate a question (duh).

Warning: It can be easy to leave out question marks even when we know where they belong. This is probably because we become so used to tapping the period key that we do it automatically — even when a question mark is required. Pay attention and use question marks when they are needed.

Tip: Only use question marks after actual questions. They don’t belong when you are merely talking about or referring to a question:

Correct:           “Are you going to wear that salami on your head?” asked Marzipan.

Incorrect:        Marzipan asked Homestar if he was going to wear that salami on  his head?

Correct:           Marzipan asked Homestar if he was going to wear that salami on his head.

We’ll be looking at lesser-known and more often misused punctuation marks in the next few lessons. Just be sure you get these three down pat.

Feel free to copy, pin, and/or share the poster below!

End Marks


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About the Author

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. Mark A. Mc Lemore
    Mark A. Mc Lemore01-30-2013

    Alright, I just read back through this. You may be correct and I was wrong. Since “wonder” would be the question, then you may not need the question mark. I taking this from the post;

    Correct: “Are you going to wear that salami on your head?” asked Marzipan.

    Incorrect: Marzipan asked Homestar if he was going to wear that salami on his head?

    Correct: Marzipan asked Homestar if he was going to wear that salami on his head.

  2. Mark A. Mc Lemore
    Mark A. Mc Lemore01-30-2013

    Wendy, I am going to comment here, in hopes that when it is answered I will be notified. This is a very good question. But, I believe because your character is “wondering” this in its own right is the question so it would be written with a question mark.
    Now, until this question is actually answered by our expert here are a few tips I can offer;
    If your character is alone and they come across a path, try putting it in thought as a question, write it in italics as follows:
    Where does this path lead too?
    If your character is not alone and talking out loud but not directly to their companion(s) you could write it as follows:
    (characters name) wondered out loud, “Where does this path go?”

  3. Wendy

    Here’s a question about question marks: When I say something like, “I wonder where this path leads,” I use a period, since it’s not stated as a question. Am I correct?

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko01-30-2013

      Excellent question, Wendy. And thanks for sharing your thoughts as well, Mark.

      I will have to do some research before I can answer this with confidence, but my first reaction is to say that technically you are correct — “I wonder where this path leads” is a declarative statement and does not require a period.

      It’s possible, however, to use a question mark to turn an otherwise declarative statement into an interrogative. It happens all the time.

      That’s your Mother?
      It’s six o’clock already?

      So, what matters is the intention of the sentence, and I would think that in most situations, “I wonder where this path leads” would be simply an idiomatic way of asking (yourself) a question. And therefore, it’s perfectly okay to use a question mark.

      In other words, your choice of punctuation determines whether or not the sentence is a question.

      I’ll do some reading and get back with you if I’m wrong here. In fact, this might make a good post.

      I love questions like this. Thanks!

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