Parag is a software developer turned writer who loves travel, the open sky, animals, books, and writing.
Written communication, though always important, has become even more so because of the pandemic and remote work. A lot of communication that earlier used to happen in meeting rooms is now happening either over video calls or over asynchronous discussion threads like emails, Slack, or other alternatives.
Brevity, clarity, and correctness are of immense importance in such communication because if the recipient has a hard time understanding what you wrote then it may result in several back-and-forth email exchanges that will end up wasting everyone's time and impact your bottom line performance when it's time for a review.
There are many qualities of clear, correct, and comprehensible writing. Punctuation is one of them.
This article is the first in a series of articles I'm writing on practical tips for using punctuation effectively in everyday writing.
The most basic unit of any writing is the sentence, so let's start there.
We all know that a sentence begins with an uppercase (capital) letter and ends with a full stop. However, there are two more ways to end a sentence: the question mark and the exclamation mark.
In this article, I'll explain the conditions under which each of these is used and the edge cases when it feels correct to use them but is not.
The full stop, also known as the period, is the simplest punctuation mark. Every sentence that is not a question ends with a full stop. It’s the dot that marks the end of a sentence, as shown in the example below.
I woke up very early this morning.
The sentence above ends with a full stop (.) because it is not a question. However, if the sentence is a direct question, then it should end with a question mark and not a full stop, as shown in the example below.
Did I wake up early this morning?
However, sometimes you will come across sentences that seem to be a question but are not - at least from the perspective of punctuation rules. The example shown below ends in a full stop and not a question mark because it is not a direct question.
I wonder if I woke up early this morning.
The difference between direct and indirect questions is explained in greater detail in the next section.
So, to end - if a sentence is not a question then it ends in a period. Period!
The question mark is used to end a sentence that is a direct question. However, it is never used for indirect questions.
Here’s an example of a direct question:
Is it cold outside?
The next two examples are not direct questions which is why they don’t end with a question mark.
He asked if it was cold outside.
He wondered if it was cold outside.
The sentences above can be misconstrued as a question but they are not. A direct question is always a statement where A asks something directly of B, or themselves, or no one in particular.
The first example above is not a question because it tells the reader that someone asked something, it does not show the subject directly asking the question. And in the second example, it feels like the subject is asking a question to themselves but they are really wondering. They are not directly phrasing a question. Therefore, both the examples above end with a full stop instead of a question mark.
However, the next example is a direct question because the text reported verbatim within the quotes was spoken as a direct question:
“Is it cold outside?” He asked.
An exclamation mark is used to end a sentence that has a strong underlying emotion to it. I've illustrated this concept below with some examples.
Defiance and Determination
Beth Harmon was determined to play chess despite the punishment she had received from her teacher prohibited her from playing for one month. “I’m going to the basement to play chess with Mr. Shaibal!” Beth announced defiantly as she stomped out of the classroom.
Shut up will you!
Be quick, we need to leave before they see us!
She thinks I’m too athletic to be a supermodel! Can you believe it?
I have been trying for hours but I just cannot get this math problem right!
Whoooo, I passed the exam with flying colors!
I love you!
In each of the examples above, you can replace the exclamation mark with a full stop. It won’t make the sentence wrong, but using an exclamation clarifies the intent, and it adds that extra punch of emotion which is often lost in textual communication.
Having said that, exclamations are most commonly used in personal essays, fiction, blogs, letters to friends, and other informal writing. They are never used in professional and journalistic writing. This distinction is very important because using an exclamation in professional writing will make your writing appear less-than-professional.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Parag Shah 333
Parag Shah 333 (author) on June 21, 2021:
Thanks for the encouraging feedback Saubhagyanidhi. Very glad that you liked it!
Saubhagyanidhi Seksaria on June 21, 2021:
Very nicely and simply explained.