This is the final article in the ‘Using Punctuation’ series. If you’ve been following it from Part 1, firstly, thank you and secondly, I hope you’ve found them helpful. This time, I’m looking at the closing punctuation marks: Full Stops, Question Marks and Exclamation Marks.
Back in the 3rd century BC, Aristophanes offered a solution to the continuous Greek writing style by having a dot to denote a pause. It is now the most commonly used punctuation mark in the English language.
Here are some examples of when a full stop should be used:
- To denote the end of a sentence, e.g.
- He’s my brother.
- To mark the end of a group of words that don’t form a conventional sentence, so as to emphasise a statement, e.g.
- We went to the football. We were very excited.
- In some abbreviations, such as , Dec., p.m., e.g.
- There’s a wide variety of fruit, meat, and cakes, etc. at the supermarket.
- In website and email addresses, e.g.
The question mark first appeared in the 15th century and was known as the “punctus interrogatives” (point of interrogation in Latin).
Oxford Dictionaries offers a theory on how the shape of the question mark came about – it began as a dot with a rising ‘tilde’ (.~) to denote upward inflection. Then over the years the present day shape evolved as more and more people tried to use the mark.
Here are some examples of when a question mark should be used:
- After a statement that is a direct question, e.g.
- Will you wash the car?
A question mark will take the place of a full stop at the end of a sentence. This means that the word that follows a question mark should be capitalised.
- A question mark is not needed with an indirect question, e.g.
- I wonder what the time is.
- A rhetorical question is one that doesn’t expect or require an answer and therefore doesn’t require a question mark, e.g.
- Why don’t you go away.
- When a sentence is half statement and half question, e.g.
- You will do it, won’t you?
- A question mark should appear inside quotation marks when the question is within the quoted words, e.g.
- He asked, ‘Will you wash the car?’
- A question mark should appear outside quotation marks when the quoted words do not form a question, e.g.
- Do you agree with the saying ‘Look before you leap’?
One theory for the origin of the exclamation mark is that it comes from the Latin word for joy (“io”). The letter ‘i’ then moved above the ‘o’ and over time came to look like the present day mark.
Here are some examples of when to use an exclamation mark:
- To express excitement, surprise, astonishment, or any other such strong emotion and to add additional emphasis, e.g.
- Hooray! We won!
An exclamation mark replaces a full stop at the end of a sentence. This means that the word that follows an exclamation mark should be capitalised.
Why not have a go at this simple quiz to test your knowledge of when to use a full stop, a question mark and an exclamation mark:
For each of the following, choose the sentence that ends with the correct punctuation mark:
1 A What is your friend’s name?.
B What is your friend’s name?
C What is your friend’s name!
2 A Mind the car?
B Mind the car!.
C Mind the car!
3 A Jack lives down the road. Past the post office.
B Jack lives down the road past the post office.
C Jack lives. Down the road past the post office.
4 A She asked if our dog is called Bert.
B She asked if our dog is called Bert?
5 A She asked, ‘Is your dog called Bert’
B She asked, ‘Is your dog called Bert’?
C She asked, ‘Is your dog called Bert?’
6 A Did you say, ‘Our dog is called Bert?’
B Did you say, ‘Our dog is called Bert’?
C Did you say, ‘Our dog is called Bert’.
7 A I wonder what your favourite fruit is.
B I wonder what your favourite fruit is?
C I wonder what your favourite fruit is!
8 A He said, ‘Can you sing the National Anthem.’
B He said, ‘Can you sing the National Anthem?’
C He said, ‘Can you sing the National Anthem’?
9 A He asked if he could sing ‘God Save the Queen’?
B He asked if he could sing ‘God Save the Queen?’
C He asked if he could sing ‘God Save the Queen.’
10 A May I walk with you?.
B May I walk with you?
C May I walk with you.
How do you think you did? Click here for the answers.
If you’ve missed the earlier articles in the Using Punctuation series, catch up here: