Terminal Punctuation – How to End a Sentence

Making your point to an audience is easier when you use the proper punctuation. This is especially true of terminal marks to indicate the type of sentence you are using. Your choice of mark can indicate an exclamation, question, or even continued thought. 

Take a look at which punctuation marks you can choose from and how to use both when carrying forward your choice of voice and tone in writing. 

What Is a Terminal Punctuation Mark?

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A terminal punctuation mark is the punctuation mark required to end a sentence. There are four types of terminal punctuation to choose from: the period, question mark, ellipsis, and exclamation mark

Some grammarians argue that the ellipsis is not a true terminal mark and should not be used. However, an ellipsis is an acceptable choice to indicate missing information, voice, and tone in dialog or an interruption of thought. 

What is the Difference Between Terminal and Internal Punctuation?

Punctuation types are defined by where they are placed in relation to your sentences. Internal punctuation such as commas, semi-colons, and quotation marks (to name a few) are used in various ways within a sentence to provide clarity and understanding. 

A terminal punctuation mark is precisely as it sounds; it terminates or ends a sentence and will always be found at the end of a complete sentence. 

When Should Terminal Punctuation Be Used For a Title?

Even though terminal punctuation is designated for the end of a sentence, you can take advantage of exclamation marks, question marks, and ellipsis within a formal title. Their use depends on whether you are indicating strong emotion, a question, or want to show the continuation of thought. 

Types of Terminal Punctuation

Placing punctuation at the end of a sentence is not only necessary, it offers the reader information related to tone for clarity and understanding. Choosing your ending punctuation is determined by two things: 1) the type of sentence you are ending and 2) the purpose of your sentence. Look at the terminal punctuation options you can choose from and when it is appropriate to use them. 

Period

The period is the most common punctuation mark to indicate the end of written thought. Use a comma with the following:

Declarative Sentences

Declarative sentences make statements, explain, convey facts, and provide information. It places the noun before the verb and always ends in a period. It is the most common type of sentence to convey information to a reader. 

For example:

  • The moon rises at night. 

Imperative Sentences

Imperative sentences command, demand, direct instruction, and request. The subject, you, is often implied or understood, and the sentence begins with the main verb and can end in a period or exclamation point. 

For example:

  • Go fold the laundry. 

Indirect Sentences

Indirect sentences are declarative and, if reworded, could be interrogative or questioning. Because it is an indirect question, it will end in a period. 

For example:

  • Donna wondered where Sam ordered his school supplies from. 

Requests

Requests can be asked within a questioning statement or as an imperative sentence. These are more demanding and provide a polite way to direct instruction. When you end a request with a period instead of a question mark, you are stating a command. 

For example:

  • Would you please ensure the table is set for the guests by 5 o’clock. 

Abbreviations

A period follows an abbreviation, and if an abbreviation ends a sentence, you use that period and do not add an extra period. 

For example:

  • She graduated last summer with her M.B.A.

Exclamation Point

Exclamatory sentences express emotion, both positive and negative. This type of sentence always ends with an exclamation point, and you can turn all other sentences into an exclamatory sentence with the use of an exclamation point. 

For example:

  • There is no way I will travel in the same car as her!

Question Mark

The question mark ends an interrogative sentence and indicates a direct question, request, or plea for more information. Interrogative sentences begin with an adverb or auxiliary verb followed by the subject. 

For example:

  • Where did you place my notebook?

Ellipsis

An ellipsis is represented by three dots and stands for an omission or deletion of words from a clause or sentence. Often used to simplify and clarify information found in direct quotes, it also can be used at the end of a sentence to indicate the continuation of thought or hesitation in a dialog. 

For example:

  • She wasn’t sure what he meant and replied, “I am unsure what you would like me to do….”

Terminal Punctuation Chart

Occasionally it can be challenging to remember how to use terminal punctuation with other forms of punctuation, such as quotations and parentheses. Use this writing tip chart to see how to use end marks concerning other punctuation marks. 

Title ending with a question mark

Declarative/Imperative Statements:

The question mark in the title ends the sentence. There is no additional period.

I can’t wait to hear her perform What About Us?

Exclamatory Statements:

The exclamation point follows immediately after the question mark.

I’m so excited about the song What About Us?!

Interrogative Statements:

The question mark in the title ends the sentence.

Who sings the song, What About Us?

Title ending with an exclamation mark

Declarative/Imperative Statements:

The exclamation mark in the title ends the sentence. There is no additional period. 

My favorite book is Horton Hears a Who!

Exclamatory Statements:

The exclamation mark in the title ends the sentence.

When I was a child, I couldn’t wait to hear my dad read Horton Hears a Who!

Interrogative Statements:

The question mark follows immediately after the exclamation point.

Is your favorite book Horton Hears a Who!?

Abbreviations

Declarative/Imperative Statements:

The period in the abbreviation ends the sentence. There is no additional period.

School starts at 8:20 a.m.

Exclamatory Statements:

Keep the period for the abbreviation and end the sentence with an exclamation point.

I hate that school starts at 8:20 a.m.!

Interrogative Statements:

Keep the period for the abbreviation and end the sentence with a question mark.

Does school start at 8:20 a.m.?

Quotation ending with a question mark

Declarative/Imperative Statements:

End the sentence with the question mark inside the closing quotation mark. There is no additional period.

He kept wondering, “Why are girls so frustrating?”

Exclamatory Statements:

End the sentence with the exclamation point immediately after the closing quotation mark. 

Stop asking me, “Why are girls so frustrating?”!

Interrogative Statements:

End the sentence with the question mark inside the closing quotation mark.

Did he seriously just ask me, “Why are girls so frustrating?” 

Quotation ending with an exclamation mark

Declarative/Imperative Statements:

End the sentence with the exclamation point inside the closing quotation mark. There is no additional period.

He kept exclaiming, “Girls are so frustrating!”

Exclamatory Statements:

End the sentence with the exclamation point inside the closing quotation mark.

Stop exclaiming, “Girls are so frustrating!”

Interrogative Statements:

End the sentence with the question mark immediately after the closing quotation mark. 

Will you stop exclaiming, “Girls are so frustrating!”?

Quotation ending with a period 

Declarative/Imperative Statements:

End the sentence with the period inside the closing quotation mark. There is no additional period.

His favorite rhetorical question was “to be or not to be, that is the question.”

Exclamatory Statements:

End the sentence with an exclamation point after the closing quotation mark. No punctuation within the quotation. 

When the accident happened on the bridge, they yelled at the pedestrians to “run, don’t walk”!

Interrogative Statements:

End the sentence with a question mark after the closing quotation mark. No punctuation within the quotation. 

Who asked, “to be or not to be”?

Parentheticals

Declarative/Imperative Statements:

The sentence ends with a period outside the closing parenthesis, no matter what punctuation is inside the parentheses.

He was a consultant for the Universities and used team-building skills for productivity (although he suggested admin take the entire course!).

Exclamatory Statements:

The sentence ends with an exclamation point outside the closing parenthesis, no matter what punctuation is inside the parentheses.

I require 100% attendance for effectiveness and presence for the entire day (from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.)!

Interrogative Statements:

The sentence ends with a question mark outside the closing parenthesis, no matter what punctuation is inside the parentheses.

Can you believe how popular her album has become in such a short time (including the song What About Us?)?

Let’s Review

Terminal punctuation marks are the editing marks for your sentences. Depending on the type of sentence you are writing and the tone you are trying to take, you may choose from a period, question mark, exclamation point, or ellipsis.

These rules should be followed for both casual writing scenarios as well as formal writing. A lack of terminal punctuation indicates poor writing skills and should therefore always be used.