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April 11, 2013

Punctuation Junction: Periods, Exclamation Points, and Question Marks

Chelsea blog 2by Chelsea Lee

Punctuation Junction: A series about what happens when punctuation marks collide.

Periods, exclamation points, and question Confusing signsmarks are three types of end punctuation—that is, they indicate the end of a sentence. Two properties of end punctuation are (a) that they are almost never used in combination with one another (even though sometimes it seems like they should be) and (b) that there is a hierarchy among the marks that determines which one you should use for a given sentence.

Follow the guidelines below to ensure you use end punctuation correctly in your APA Style papers.

1. If a sentence seems to call for both a period and an exclamation point or both a period and a question mark, use only the exclamation point or question mark, respectively. These marks are stronger than the period and take its place.

  • Correct: The therapist began the session by asking, “How do you feel today?” The patient replied, “I feel 100% improved!”
  • Incorrect: The therapist began the session by asking, “How do you feel today?”. The patient replied, “I feel 100% improved!”.

2. If a reference title ends in an exclamation point or question mark, this mark takes the place of the period that would have otherwise appeared after the title. These marks are stronger than the period and take its place.

  • Correct: Raftopoulos, A. (2009). Cognition and perception: How do psychology and neural science inform philosophy? Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Incorrect: Raftopoulos, A. (2009). Cognition and perception: How do psychology and neural science inform philosophy?. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

3. Only the exclamation point and question mark can ever appear in combination, to indicate an exclamatory question (this will rarely be used in an academic paper, however).

  • Correct: When the professor told John he would have to repeat the psychology course, John’s eyes grew wide as he exclaimed, “What?!” Then he ran from the room.
  • Incorrect: When the professor told John he would have to repeat the psychology course, John’s eyes grew wide as he exclaimed, “What?!.” Then he ran from the room.

For more on periods, see §4.02 of the APA Publication Manual.

Keep an eye out for more Punctuation Junction posts coming soon!

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