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End Punctuation

T he end of a sentence is signalled by a period, an exclamation mark, or a question mark. One almost never sees a question mark or an exclamation point in the middle of a sentence.  A period, on the other hand, has many uses in addition to ending a sentence: for example, a period is used in titles, abbreviations, and placenames; and so, in these situations, a period is seen in the middle of a sentence. In this module, students will learn the rules for correct use of end punctuation, and to use end punctuation correctly and effectively in writing.

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The Period

A period, also called a "full stop," is used to signal the end of most kinds of sentences . . .

the period at the end of a sentence:

A declarative sentence: a period is used to end a sentence that states a fact, such as "She laughed at my joke," or an opinion, such as "I believe it will rain today."

An imperative sentence: a period is also used to conclude a sentence that issues an order, gives advice, or makes a request—though with requests, one may choose instead to use a question mark.


Children will stay within school grounds during recess.

They will discover the problem for themselves.


You should not be swimming so soon after eating.

We should go to the party tonight.


Would you please change the oil for me.

Please send her my congratulations on getting the promotion.

Note: a good way to determine whether a request should end with a period or a question mark is to say the sentence out loud.  If your voice goes up at the end of the sentence, use a question mark. Little rise in your voice indicates a level of formality and polite hesitation; a period expresses this polite tone.

An indirect question: a period is used in a sentence that includes a question, but is itself not a question.

Hilary asked us if we wanted to go swimming this afternoon.

I wondered why she asked us if we had our bathing suits.

other uses of the period

Periods and Money

A period is used between dollars and cents.  No period is used when money is rounded to dollars:

$45.89    $45     $1,150      $1,150.00     $.67     $1

Periods and Abbreviations

Periods are not used in the abbreviations of familiar institutions, organizations, radio stations, long terms, and states do not take periods:

CIA     FBI     BBB      AAA     KFOG      AIDS     BART      EBMUD     CA

Nor are periods used in abbreviations that have become widely accepted as replacment words for the full version:

exam     memo    dorm     web     cell

Periods are used in abbreviations used for titles and unfamliar institutions and organizations:

Dr.     Mr.     Ms.     M.D.      Ph.D.   Col.    M.A.D.D.  

Periods are also used after numbers or letters in an outline, unless the number or letter is enclosed in parentheses:

I.     A.     1.     1.1.2.      (a)     (iii)


An ellipses, or a series of three periods (with a space between the last word or the period at the end of a sentence), is used to show an ommission of words in quote. If a single word is ommitted, use brackets ([ ]) to indicate the ommission.

Walker . . . was picked up by the A's just three days before the regular season was to start.

The Sierra Nevada range is of greater elevation than the Rocky Mountains. . . . This and the coast range run nearly parallel with the shore of the Pacific. (Edwin Bryant, What I Saw in California)

Ellipses may also be used to indicate a pause or an unfinished thought:

"The details of my life are quite inconsequential. . . . Very well, where do I begin?" (Dr. Evil in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery)


The Question Mark

Use a question mark at the end of a direct question.

Will you have milk with your tea?

Can I dance with your date?

What is your problem?

A question mark goes inside the closing quote if the quote is a question; if the sentence itself is a question, place the punctuation outside the closing quote. Do not double up punctuation when using a question mark by adding in the usual comma or a period. Skip the additional punctuation:

"What in the world were you thinking of?" I asked.

What is the context for Twain's comment, "In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made School Boards"?

Use a question mark in parentheses to express doubt or uncertainty. But be careful not to overuse this technique, or use it as a substitute for explanation when an explanation would be useful.

The captain was born in 1799 (?), and died in 1854.

As discussed above, do not use question marks after indirect questions or polite requests.

In a series of questions, it is acceptable to abbreviate questions after the initial question if the structure is clear.

Are you really coming? For two weeks? Really?



The Exclamation Point

The exclamation point is believed to have its origins in the Latin exclamation io, a term used to express joy. In the English language, exclamation points allow writers to quickly let a reader know that a statement is emphatic.  There is a world of difference between "No." and "No!" for example.  Be careful, however, to use an exclamation mark for strong emotions; overuse of exclamation marks make it seem as if a writer is relying on symbols rather than language to convey meaning.

Wow! Did you really get an A+ on that exam?

Let's take a road trip!

Listen! I think I hear something.

I can't believe you got your nose pierced!

Note: In a quotation, an exclamation point goes inside a closing quote if the quote is an exclamation; if the sentence itself is an exclamation, place the punctuation outside the closing quote. Do not double up punctuation when using a an exclamation point by adding in the usual comma or a period. Skip the additional punctuation:

His doctor exclaimed, "Wow! It's lucky we caught this in time."



Fixing Common End Punctuation Mistakes

If you discover the comment "EP" (for "faulty end punctuation") in the margin of a paper you have received back from your instructor, asking yourself the following questions may help you quickly figure out where you went wrong. 

Did I confuse a direct question with an indirect question?

Did I forget about the rule against double end punctuation? (No expressions like"??!!?" are allowed.)

Did I over-do it with the exclamations? (Use exclamation marks sparingly; mild exclamations do not take exclamation marks.)

Did I forget closing punctuation altogether? (Seems unlikely, but sometimes this happens.)




Video Lesson
end punctuation lesson


1. The period

2. The question mark

3. The exclamation mark

4. Fixing common EP mistakes

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