In January, we looked at the various keys for sentence starters. Now we’re going to venture to the end of the Punctuation Road with sentence enders.
Just as we have starting signals for our sentences, we have sentence enders.
While three marks of punctuation are classic signs for the end of the sentence, we also have two additional punctuation marks that create a “stop and go” situation. The Ellipsis and the Asterisk follow a discussion about the sentence, in form, variety, and length. Watch for those blogs to come in March.
3 Classic End Marks
The period is a simple little dot on the base line > . It shows the end of a complete thought.
The exclamation mark also contains its own period with a straight-line effect above it > !
The question markcontains that little period dot to show the completion of the thought while suspending a mark in the air, as if waiting for more to drop—like the answer > ?
All appear at the end of a sentence to show its stop point.
Most communication is not a single sentence. It is a series of sentences, each of which presents an element of the entire thought process. Within a paragraph, the sentence end marks guide the reader through the development of the idea or concept that is being discussed.
We pause and stop and go on as we read, just as drivers do on the roadways.
The end mark helps the writer and the reader work through the ideas as they build to the writer’s presentation. When writers run on for an entire page without ever stopping a sentence, the reader can feel exhausted and lose track of the development process. The writer may have presented a series of complete thoughts. Without end marks, those thoughts all run together into a mishmash that becomes difficult to understand.
The period is designed to represent the definite end, an emotionless stopping point. Once we are reading, our eyes register the meaning of the period even as they glide on to the next sentence. We see the thought stop, the next start, and we continue on.
Basically, the exclamation mark presents strong emotion or sound.
Exclamations are short, brusque, and intense. They rarely contain both nouns and verbs.
- Not yet!
- What a goal!
Tone and volume by words alone are difficult to convey. The exclamation mark communicates that intensity.
However, the use of the exclamation mark should be limited. Overuse seems like shouting, just as all caps SHOUTS AT THE READER. (There. Didn’t that seem rude?)
In formal communication, shouting should never occur. Formal Communication (business and finance, law and education, medicine and the other fields) is reasoned and logical. It is the mind forming thoughts after the emotions have helped determine our opinion.
In a fictional story, one statement might be shouted, maybe even two. In reality, few people can maintain a constant roar.
The Question Mark is slightly more involved than the period and the exclamation mark.
The nature of a question looks to an answer. I don’t know if that had anything to do with the comma-like look of the suspended element of the ?. The period is certainly evident, to show the end of the question.
That question can be one word, a phrase or fragment, or a complete sentence.
When the question is a phrase or fragment, the answer statement will serve to complete that thought, one part having the base noun and the other the base verb.
In Spanish, an upside-down question mark ¿ opens the question while the ? closes it. (This up-down flipping is also the rule for the exclamation mark). I can see the benefit to opening a question with this signal, especially when no opening question word like “who” or “where” is used.
¿ To form the opening Spanish question mark, click CTRL + ALT + Shift + the question mark key at the same time.
¡ To form the opening exclamation mark, substitute the exclamation key for the question mark key.
The Direct Question demands the question mark. Some Indirect Questions do not.
- John, do you know where the fish are biting?
- When I asked him, John did not know where the fish were biting.
The question has become subordinate rather than standing as a separate element.
Another form of the Indirect Question is the question imbedded inside another question.
- Can you tell me where the restroom is located?
The imbedded question has been called a more polite way to ask a question. Notice that the imbedded question is slightly reworded from the direct “Where is the restroom located?”
- Can you tell me what time it is?
- What time is it?
Well, it’s time for the end of this blog.
With communication as our primary goal, before continuing on with information about our two special end marks, we should talk about the sentence. That will be our focus for the next three blogs: the sentence itself, sentence variety, and sentence length.
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