Punctuation Makes Things Clear

As you build your English vocabulary, do more reading, and have more ideas to share, you'll want to write more. In order to express your ideas clearly, you need to set up your sentences in a way that is easy to read. In English, we use special marks called punctuation to do this. Punctuation tells the reader if a sentence is ending or continuing, if the writer is excited or asking a question, which words go together, and many other things. Read this page to understand why punctuation is so important in English.

Outcome: Punctuation

It's time to learn punctuation. These little marks can often be the cause of a lot of heartaches and headaches. Errors in punctuation can often have unintended meanings. For example, consider the difference the comma makes in these two sentences:

  • Let's eat, Grandpa.
  • Let's eat Grandpa.

Punctuation doesn't exist simply to cause problems; in fact, it was created to help communication. These marks were invented to guide readers through passages – to let them know how and where words relate to each other. When you learn the rules of punctuation, you equip yourself with an extensive toolset so you can better craft language to communicate the exact message you want.

As we mentioned before, different style guides have slightly different rules for grammar. This is especially true when it comes to punctuation. This outcome will cover the MLA rules for punctuation, but we'll also make note of rules from other styles when they're significantly different. 


Watch this video to see the important role punctuation plays in academic and professional writing.

End Punctuation

There are three punctuation marks that come at the end of a sentence: the period ( . ), the question mark ( ? ), and the exclamation point ( ! ). A sentence is always followed by a single space, no matter what the concluding punctuation is.

Periods ( . )

Periods indicate a neutral sentence, and as such are by far the most common ending punctuation mark. They've been at the end of every sentence on this page so far. They occur at the end of statements.


Question Marks ( ? )

A question mark comes at the end of a question (How was class today?). A rhetorical question is asked to make a point and does not expect an answer. Some questions are used principally as polite requests (Would you pass the salt?). All of these questions can be categorized as direct questions, and all of these questions require a question mark at their ends.

Indirect Questions
Indirect questions do not have question marks at their ends. They can be used in many of the same ways as declarative ones, but they often emphasize knowledge or lack of knowledge:

      • I can't guess how Tamika managed it.
      • I wonder whether I looked that bad.
      • Cecil asked where the reports were.

Notice how different word order is used in direct and indirect questions: in direct questions, the verb usually comes before the subject, while the verb appears second in indirect questions.

Exclamation Points ( ! )

The exclamation point is usually used after an interjection or exclamation to indicate strong feelings or high volume, and often marks the end of a sentence. You've likely seen this overused on the internet.

While this kind of statement is excessive, there are appropriate ways to use exclamation points. A sentence ending in an exclamation mark may be an exclamation (such as "Wow!" or "Boo!"), or an imperative ("Stop!"), or may indicate astonishment ("They were the footprints of a gigantic duck!").

The exclamation mark is sometimes used in conjunction with the question mark. This can be in protest or astonishment ("Out of all places, the water-hole?!").

Informally, exclamation marks may be repeated for additional emphasis ("That's great!!!"), but this practice is generally only considered acceptable in casual or informal writing, such as text messages or online communication with friends and family.


Punctuation Clusters

Occasionally, you'll come across an instance that seems to require multiple punctuation marks right next to each other. Sometimes you need to keep all the marks, but other times, you should leave some out.

You should never use more than one ending punctuation mark in a row (period, question mark exclamation point). When quoting a question, you would end with a question mark, not a question mark and a period. If an abbreviation, like etc., ends a sentence, you should only use one period.

  • Carlos leaned forward and asked, "Did you get the answer to number six?"
  • I think we'll have enough food. Mary bought the whole store: chips, soda, candy, cereal, etc.

However, you can place a comma immediately after a period, as you can see above with etc. This rule also applies to the abbreviations e.g. and i.e.

Note: For those who are curious, e.g. stands for exempli gratia, which means "for example", and i.e. stands for id est, which means "that is".

Sources: Lumen Learning, https://courses.lumenlearning.com/engcomp1-wmopen/chapter/outcome-punctuation/
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Griffith University, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uKLw1z65Qk
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Last modified: Monday, February 5, 2024, 9:53 AM