Punctuation marks are a convention of written language that help readers and writers more easily understand language in written forms. There are five punctuation rules for using question marks, exclamation marks, and interrobangs in written American English:
- Question marks to end sentences
- Question marks in dates and numbers
- Exclamation marks to end sentences
- Exclamation marks with emphatic interjections
- Interrobangs to end sentences
The following sections explain and provide examples of the five punctuation rules for question marks, exclamation marks, and interrobangs in written English.
Question Marks to End Sentences
Use a question mark to end a sentence that asks a question. Both interrogative and declaration sentences can ask questions. For example:
- How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
- Why did you do that?
- This book is on the fifth floor?
Question Marks in Dates and Numbers
Use a question mark enclosed in parentheses to mark an uncertain date or number. For example:
- The first settlers arrived in the area in around 1854 (?).
- William Shakespeare, who was born in 1564 (?), is a prominent writer in the English language.
- My neighbor lived to be 98 (?) years old.
Exclamation Marks to End Sentences
Use an exclamation mark to end an imperative or declarative sentence that conveys strong emotion. For example:
- A hurricane wiped out the entire downtown!
- Sit down, and shut up!
- Watch out for that car!
Exclamation Marks with Emphatic Interjections
Use an exclamation mark after an emphatic interjection that is not part of the grammatical structure of the sentence. For example:
- Oh! I didn’t realize you had company.
- Help! I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up.
- Oliver! Please be quiet.
Interrobangs to End Sentences
Use an interrobang to end a sentence that asks a question with excitement or disbelief. An interrobang, which is a question mark followed by an exclamation mark, combines the functions of question exclamation marks. For example:
- Your new car cost how much?!
- The baby did what?!
- Where have you left my car?!
As a convention of written language, punctuation marks help make writing more understandable for readers and writers by ensuring the clarity of language in written forms. Question marks, exclamation marks, and interrobangs perform five main functions in written American English: question marks to end sentences, questions marks in dates and numbers, exclamation marks to end sentences, exclamation marks with emphatic interjections, and interrobangs to end sentences.
Faigley, Lester. 2003. The Brief Penguin Handbook. New York: Pearson Longman.
Gibaldi, Joseph. 2003. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 6th ed. New York: The Modern Language Association of America.