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Set 4 - Lesson 16  ( Go to the Answer Key )

Lesson 16 - End Punctuation: Periods, Exclamation Points, Question Marks

PERIODS: Periods are such simple little things .... a dot, a speck, a pinpoint.  And yet, a period has the ability to bring a roaring, powerful 100-word sentence to a screeching halt.  Like that.  Or does it?  The truth is that a period is only a signal on paper that one thought or idea has ended.   In English speech, this is indicated by a slight drop in the pitch of the voice.  Read the following example sentences as naturally as possible.  Listen to what your voice does as it reaches the end of the sentence.  Have somebody else read the sentences as you listen.  There should be a drop in pitch on the last half of or last syllable of a word , as with 'fleas' or 'coffee' or 'old'.   Sometimes the lower pitch lasts for the whole word, as with 'yesterday' or 'old'.  That drop in pitch is the same signal to an English-speaker's ear that the period is to your eye - this thought is ended. 

My dog has fleas.       I'm going to the store for coffee.     John drove to work yesterday.        She's six years old.

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As a final note, you must remember that periods can only be used correctly at the end of a complete sentence, whether that sentence is one word or 80 words long.

  • Wrong:  Going to school last week.   When I get to Oklahoma.  My brother's girlfriend.    These are not sentences because they do not have all the necessary parts and they do not express a complete thought. (see Lessons 5, 6, 7, 8, or 10 on Building Sentences)  If they are not complete sentences or complete thoughts, they do not deserve a period at the end.

    • Right:  This is a good example.     I'm tired.   I thought we were going to school last week, but you told me that when I get to Oklahoma I could go with my brother's girlfriend.  

      These examples do express complete thoughts and have all the necessary parts to be complete sentences.  They deserve periods. 

BUT, there are situations in which the first three examples would get periods - if they were answers to previously-asked questions.  For example:

"What did you use my bicycle for when you borrowed it?" "When do you plan to look for a job?"  "Who do you have a date with Saturday?" 
 "Going to school last week."  "When I get to Oklahoma."   "My brother's girlfriend."

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In these cases, the missing sentence parts or the completion of the thoughts are included in the questions so both parties to the conversation understand what the incomplete sentences mean.  The answers complete the thoughts that were begun in the questions.  An extreme example of this  is the question that can be answered by one word.  "Do you want to go out tonight?"    "No."    "Who are you saving that pizza for?"   "Fred."   The words and meanings that allow these one-word answers to be considered complete thoughts are contained in the questions.  Think of it this way - "Do you want to go out tonight?"  "No, I do not want to go out tonight."  and "Who are you saving that pizza for?"  "I am saving it for Fred." 


There are four principle ways an English speaker can indicate that he is asking a question - by ending the sentence with a rising pitch to his voice, by using a question (interrogative) word to begin the sentence,  by having the subject and a linking or auxiliary verb change positions,  or by putting the correct form of DO (or other auxiliary verb) at the beginning of the sentence. Often, a combination of these methods is used in the same sentence.

This is your dog 

  If the speaker said these words with his  voice rising at the end, the listener would know he was being asked a question.  If you were writing the spoken words, you would have to put a question mark at the end to indicate that the speaker's voice rose at the end and that he was asking a question.  This is your dog?

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What time is it?    

When are you going home?  Where do you live?  Why did you come here?
Is this your dog? Was Henry late for class again?   Will you pay for the taxi?  

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These sentences could be spoken with your voice rising or falling at the end and the speaker would still  know they were questions because of the Interrogatory words at the beginning and the verb or part of the verb placed in front of the subject.  If you read these sentences, you would know they were questions even without the Question Marks for the same reasons.  The rules say, however, that you must write a question mark after a question, even in obvious cases like this.  

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Sentences with action verbs in them (Transitive or Intransitive) can be made into questions by adding some form of the verb DO.  When this happens, DO takes over the job of indicating the tense and the person from the main verb.  Notice what changes from the statement form on the left to the question form on the right.

John sang the lead part in the class musical last night. Did John sing the lead part in the class musical last night?
Sara rides her bicycle to school every day. Does Sara ride her bicycle to school every day?
All the boys play basketball at recess. Do all the boys play basket ball at recess?
The mailman brought a pile of bills to the house yesterday. Did the mailman bring a pile of bills to the house yesterday?

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Word order in these sentences is the main indicator that they are questions.  Although most English speakers would say these sentences with their voices rising at the end, it is possible to say them with your voice keeping a level pitch or dropping at the end.  In those cases, it would be word order alone that informed the listener he was hearing a question.  When you are writing English, you must be aware of the Question Words and the reversed subject and verb to know when to put a Question Mark at the end of a sentence.  The pitch of the speaker's voice cannot  be relied upon to tell you this.


The only purpose for an Exclamation point is to inform the reader that the words before that symbol are to be read with strong emotion.  As a writer of English, when you want to let a reader  know that the words you are writing have a strong emotional content - anger, grief, surprise, etc. - you place an Exclamation Point after them.  Examples.

Stop! Police!         

Get down off that ladder immediately!    I didn't mean to shoot her!  Hurray!  I won the lottery!

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When you are reading something that another person wrote, an Exclamation Point will tell you there is strong emotional content, but you have to learn from the words themselves what kind of emotion it is.  When you are writing, you must make it clear to the reader what kind of emotion an Exclamation Point is indicating.  

Clear:  Heartbroken, she cried out, "Paul! Don't go!"    Facing the snarling dog, the terrified boy yelled. "Get down!  Get back!"

Unclear:  The pilot shouted to his crew, "Get ready!  The runway's ahead!"   Is the pilot very happy because they would be landing soon, or is he frightened because they were going to crash into the runway?  The only information a reader has is what you put on the page he is reading.  If you do not provide enough facts or details, it forces the reader to guess what you mean.

Exercise A:  Place the correct punctuation mark at the end of the following sentences.  If more than one answer could be correct, put each of the possible answers.

1. There just isn't enough time to do everything

2. I forgot my hat yesterday

3. Is that your mother

4. At the end of a long day, when we had finally arrived home 

5. There goes my baby

6. When will he ever learn to do it right

7. Do you think we have enough food

8. What did you say was in the garage

9. This is absolutely the last time

10. There are fourteen people on the boat.

Exercise B:  Change each of these statements to questions by adding Question Words,  placing part of the verb before the subject, or adding some form of the verb DO .  Write the questions on the blank lines.

1. That is a very nice car.


2. You will go to school.


3. The horse fell down the steep bank.


4. There are too many people on the bus.


5. Science was his worst subject.


6. Billy brings his lunch to school in a paper bag.


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Examination:   Put the correct punctuation at the end of the following complete sentences.  If a group of words is not a sentence,  make it complete and then put the correct punctuation at the end.  

1.   I really wanted before we arrived home

2. How many peppers did Peter Piper pick

3. Watch out below

4. There were ninety-nine bottles of Pepsi on the wall.

5. As I walked through the meadow with the moon shining down

6. He sat still

7. Is this the only way you know how to do it

8. Lions and tigers and bears can be dangerous

9. Is there room for one more up front

10. I would like to have sometime

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