22nd October 2018
How to End a Sentence (A Guide to Terminal Punctuation)
Punctuation marks that can be used to end a sentence are known as a “terminal” punctuation. But what exactly are your options in this respect? Check out our guide to terminal punctuation to find out.
The period (sometimes also known as a “full stop”) is the most common type of terminal punctuation. They are used for any sentences that are not questions or exclamations. For instance:
Brevity is the soul of wit.
This finality is why people say “period” at the end of a sentence to emphasize a point. Furthermore, we see the same punctuation mark used for:
- Decimal points (e.g., 3.1415)
- Abbreviations (e.g., “Prof.” or “Dr.”)
- Ellipses (i.e., a series of three dots used to indicate an omission […])
The period is therefore very versatile! Technically, however, it only counts as “terminal punctuation” when used at the end of a sentence.
The Question Mark
We use question marks to show that a written sentence is a question.
This only applies, however, when asking a direct question. For an indirect question (i.e., a question within a statement), we use a period instead:
Direct Question: Is brevity the soul of wit?
Indirect Question: He asked me whether brevity is the soul of wit.
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Finally, you can use either a period or a question mark after a rhetorical question. Make sure to apply punctuation consistently if you ask more than one rhetorical question in a document, though.
The Exclamation Point
Exclamation points are the most enthusiastic punctuation marks. We use them when we want to show that something is surprising or exciting, or to express strong emotions in general:
Help! My writing lacks brevity and therefore wit!
Here, for example, the exclamation marks indicate urgency (or possible panic). You can also use an exclamation point in fictional dialogue to show that a character is shouting or speaking loudly.
“How witty!” Tim whooped in excitement.
Keep in mind, though, that exclamation points lose their impact if overused. They are therefore best used sparingly, and you may want to avoid them completely in formal or academic writing.
Summary: What Is Terminal Punctuation?
Terminal punctuation indicates the end of a sentence. These marks include:
- Periods – Used for any sentence that is not a question or exclamation
- Question marks – Used to indicate a direct question
- Exclamation points – Used to express surprise or strong feelings
If you need help with the punctuation in your writing, check out our services.
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