Basic Punctuation

Question Marks and Exclamation Marks

Basic punctuation symbols like the Question Mark and the Exclamation Mark can be used to give flavor and emotion in English as well as to convey meaning. These two symbols can be easily misused if you are not familiar with the very simple rules. Review the examples below to help your writing say exactly what you intend (and maybe how you feel about the words.)

Question mark:

A question mark (?) is a basic punctuation symbol used to end a sentence. Well, actually that sentence becomes a question when ended with a question mark.

Example 1: How long have you been going jogging?
Interpretation 1: This is a direct question which ends with a question mark.

It's considered bad practice to combine a question mark with symbols like another question mark or an exclamation mark in academic prose.

What punctuation to use?

Also, do not to end a sentence with a question mark when it asks an indirect question. Indirect questions are like these:

Example 2: “Mark asked Jerry why he was late.”

Example 3: “Susan asked them why they didn’t provide the listed services.”

Pretty simple, right? Let’s look at exclamation marks next.

Exclamation mark:

An exclamation mark (!) is another basic punctuation symbol used to express emphasis, surprise, strong feelings or wonder. It specifically suggests the sentence ending with an exclamation point is excited or especially important, and should be read with stress. Be careful not to use exclamations too often in English punctuation.

Example 1: What great weather!
Interpretation 1: This speaker is excited or is in wonder at the beauty of the weather.

Example 2: Wow!
Interpretation 2: Single worded exclamation.

Example 3: Boo!
Interpretation 3: Single worded exclamation.

Example 4: No!
Interpretation 4: Single worded answer in negative, ending in exclamation. Perhaps the question was so surprising or distasteful that the answerer had to use a “No” with an exclamation “!”

There are many sentences that crop up nowadays where the author uses multiple exclamation marks. Like this:


Now, remember, this is Not how formal English works and is more suited to “chatting” or to casual, story telling writing. Using more than one mark is not considered proper writing, and is not in line with the basic punctuation rules for English.

Another thing that’s common is seeing an exclamation combined with a question mark. Something like this:

“A bonfire?!”

As mentioned earlier under the section of question marks, this is not an approved usage of punctuation.

We cannot easily guess the meaning of the sentence above because we don’t know the context of the conversation where it is said. It probably means that someone is confused or startled at the thought of bonfire.

See the question mark followed by an exclamation mark? This is used when you are objecting to or are against something. This usage is referred as an interrobang. The interrobang isn't used much in academic writing.

Return To Punctuation Overview Page

Return From Basic Punctuation To Home Page

Protected by Copyscape Online Infringement Detector