By Geraldine Woods

When you’re speaking, the listener knows you’ve arrived at the end of a sentence because the thought is complete and your tone says that you’re done. In writing, the tone part is taken care of by a period, question mark, or exclamation point. In formal English you must have one, and only one, of these marks at the end of a sentence.

On the Internet and in texts where rules shatter all the time, it’s common to pile on a bunch of punctuation marks to show strong emotion (or to omit punctuation entirely). But when you want to write in standard English, you need an endmark at the end of a sentence. Periods are for statements, question marks are for (surprise) questions, and exclamation points scream at the reader. Endmarks become complicated when they tangle with quotation marks.

Practice questions

These sentences are desperately in need of an endmark. Indicate the appropriate endmark.

  1. Do you think that she really means they’re awful
  2. I can’t believe that Lola actually bought one

Answers to practice questions

  1. ? (question mark). Here the question mark signals a request for information.
  2. ! (exclamation point). I hear this one as a strong blast of surprise, suitable for an exclamation point.