Punctuation Errors: Multiple Punctuation Marks

By Daniel Scocco

Sometime ago Maeve wrote a brilliant post titled “Let the Word do the Work.” On the article she was manifesting hes despair towards the common use of redundancies like “return back” or “speeding too fast.”

The conclusion is straight forward: it’s as if people don’t trust a word to mean what it means. The same concept applies to punctuation. Ever saw someone write that something was “absolutely amazing!!!”? What about when someone refers to a “dead silence…….”?

The exclamation mark, the ellipsis and the question mark have clear roles inside the English language, and you should trust them. Increasing the number of exclamation or question marks at the end of a sentence might appear to increase the overall emphasis, but in reality it just makes your text ugly and informal.

Notice that the ellipsis used at the end of a sentence should be followed by a period, for a total of four dots. On other cases limit yourself to three dots. Exclamation and question marks should be used only once.

This is a very simple rule, but the horde of over-emotional teens coming from MySpace and similar calls for a reminder.

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23 Responses to “Punctuation Errors: Multiple Punctuation Marks”

  • Alan

    Personally I think it’s down to personal opinion (though anything over three is most certainly overkill). Sometimes you need to add a little more emphasis, just as you may require to deploy both an exclamation and a query – ‘What!?’

    As for accusing teens, I have seen English teachers equally as ‘guilty’.

  • Daniel

    Alan, the exclamation and question marks together do have a place, that is correct.

    I do not agree with using more than one exclamation or question mark for emphasis, though.

    I guess one could let it pass in very informal contexts, like an SMS over the phone. But that is it.

  • T. Page

    I have a question on basically the same topic. When you are writing dialogue and you must end with a comma such as: “Blah Blah blah,” said Jim. Is there a reason the comma is placed within the brackets? The comma would, generally, not be a part of the proper punctuation of whatever is being said (if written down). Why do we not write the comma outside the quotation marks?

    Thanks.

  • Daniel

    T. Page, I will cover that on the next “Punctuation Errors” post. Stay tuned, but basically it has to do with style, American English puts the punctuation inside the quotation marks while British English puts it outside.

  • Geoff Foster

    While we’re about it, what about the proper lead up to a quotation?

    That is, which of the following is preferable?

    a. The student stood up and said “Please may I be excused?”

    b. The student stood up and said, “Please may I be excused?”

    c. The student stood up and said: “Please may I be excused?”

    d. The student stood up, and said “Please may I be excused?”

  • Georg

    Unfortunately this horde of over-emotional teens coming from MySpace doesn’t read this blog.

  • Daniel

    Geoff, I would go with option b).

    I will ask Maeve for his take on this though.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  • Scott

    I’m not a fan of using exclamation points in business writing, adhering instead to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s dictum that using an exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke. Any thoughts on that?

  • Henry Imler

    What happens if a book title that contains a question mark comes at the end of a indicative sentence?

  • Alan

    Daniel – in that case, what about multiple interrobangs‽ 😉

    I’m still not sold against multiple question/exclamation marks. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not something I use anything but sparingly, but I think they can be an easy way of shoring up tone.

    That sort of tone is rarely required in professional/business writing, so it’s fair to say it has no place there, but in communications I believe it may. When writing speech there’s the excuse that the speech tag or description could convey much of what multiple punctuation may, but that’s not so in general communications – for instance an e-mail which is neither overly-colloquial nor formal.

  • Daniel

    Scott, I am a fan of Scott Fitzgerald, but I am sure if we could avoid using exclamation points altogether. They do have a role, even if not an important one in business writing as you mentioned.

    Henry, I would put that book title inside exclamation marks like this:

    I want to present the book titled “There and Back Again!”.

    But I am not sure if this would not be considered a double punctuation mark, and thus wrong. I will research it.

  • cutelilsk8rgramma

    @ Daniel I want to present the book titled “There and Back Again!”.

    This is incorrect. I believe the correct way to punctuate would be: I want to present the book titled There and Back Again!

    And this is the correct punctuation: b. The student stood up and said, “Please may I be excused?”

  • cutelilsk8rgramma

    oops. my italics went haywire. it’s meant to read:

    I want to present the book titled There and Back Again!

    If you’ll look in printed works, I’m sure you’ll note that there is never, ever double punctuation (!”. for example) used.

  • Alice

    “This is a very simple rule, but the horde of over-emotional teens coming from MySpace and similar calls for a reminder.”

    Minus the MySpace, I probably fit this very well. Some of my less formal work contains too much punctuation. Nothing like ten exclamation points or anything, but still too much.

    What can I say? Force of habit. I usually go through and weed out errors like this in the revision, though. I’m actually starting to break myself of the habit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    That last sentence may be a bit of an exaggeration.

  • PreciseEdit

    Geoff: None of these is correct, though the comma and colon used in sample B and C are both correct.

    “Why is none of these correct?” you ask.

    Answer: “Please [comma here] may I be excused?”

  • marilyn

    When expressing somthing people might think or say, do you punctuate it in the following manner – with the comma after “think”?
    Consider the following:
    When people hear about the source thing, they think, “Oh, he means God.”

  • Don Scott

    Using an additional question mark or exclamation mark weakens the sentence. It is as if the writer does not believe the sentence can stand on its own. This resembles the way the word “very” weakens the word it modifies. In which of the following two sentences is the word “gay” stronger?

    You are not gay, right?

    You are not very gay, right?

    There is only one place for the word “very.” it must stand alone as a complete sentence.

    “Does using multiple duplicate punctuation marks at the end if a sentence make you appear ignorant?”

    “Very.”

  • Eric

    Hello question I’m not good at English especially grammar and punctuations. My question is what does it mean when someone uses:

    Are you going to work tommmorow, right!?

    Is that like asking a question being assertive or more like yelling at someone? English has to many rules but I try.

  • Hafiz

    which of these is correct?
    a) He wondered, “should I kill this snake?”.
    b) He wondered, “should I kill this snake?”

    option a) is with a period at the end while option a) is without a period.

  • Stacey

    “Ever saw someone write that something was ‘absolutely amazing!!!’? What about when someone refers to a ‘dead silence…….’?”

    “Ever saw someone…?” What?

    “On the article she was manifesting hes despair…” What?

    I think that if you are writing articles about punctuation/grammar usage, proofreading should be an important part of your process.

    Where you place your punctuation within/without quotes depends on what style manual you are using.

    If you want to use a hundred million “!” go for it. It’s your writing. If it is how you express the tone, do it. But first, ask yourself, why am I writing this and who is my audience.

  • Ron Bangi

    In elementary school, I was taught the use of ending punctuation of more than 1 punctuation(. ! or ?) is improper use. Am I correct or incorrect in this? I have an associate who insists in using “?.” or “!.” rather than a single ending punctuation. Please help me explain to this hard headed guy.

  • G Murphy

    Really!? If you are going to write an article about the correct use of punctuation, it might be a good idea to brush up on some of the basics first. Your grammar is atrocious, and I’m not even referring to complex idiosyncratic grammar. I’m referring to your tenses:

    “Ever SAW someone write that something was “absolutely amazing!!!”?”

    Not forgetting typos or spelling mistakes:
    “On the article she was manifesting HES despair…”

    Other than the fact that you are presenting your personal opinion on how a body of text looks to you as an objective iron clad rule, in an article purporting to be tips on daily writing, perhaps a basic grasp of the English language might be a good starting point.

  • Arvind Rao

    Interesting to see so many different views on this sticky topic-never-the less interesting. Perhaps moderation is good in everything including writing, with the focus being to help the reader to understand what is trying to be conveyed by the writer.

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