Rethinking Punctuation: Ending a Sentence

Rethinking Punctuation: Ending a Sentence

Episode One

Hey teachers! Welcome to the first post in a mini-series on how we think about punctuation. These posts will focus on redefining punctuation for beginner learners of English, so it’s a more graspable subject for students to tackle. Today we’re going to be looking at ending a sentence. Specifically, we’ll talk about how we can group these punctuation marks so they’re easier to remember! Let’s get started.


The Period

We’ll begin with the easiest punctuation mark, the period. This one is found in many other languages, so it’s absolutely the most relatable one. Periods, in short, tell the reader when to stop. Let’s check out an example:


My dog likes long walks.


Easy enough, right? Encourage students to create their own sentences with periods. Periods can also show commands and declarative statements. These can be facts or opinions, and sentences that are supposed to let someone or something know they are supposed to be doing something.


The Question Mark

Another common punctuation mark, the question mark, is used to-- you guessed it--illustrate questions. These too are found in other languages. Most of the time, starting a sentence with who, what, where, why, or when will lead the reader to assume a question is going to be asked (the rare exception being a declarative such as What a nice day, or, Why, I think I will go for a walk outside.) Let’s use a quick example:


What time are you going to the park?


Questions are used to find out information, and often prompt a response from the subject. If I’m asking my friends the question above, they should respond with a relative or absolute time (such as soon, or 3 o’clock).

The Ellipsis

The ellipsis (plural: ellipses) is a bit trickier than our first two punctuation marks, because it isn’t used nearly as often. Ellipses tell the reader when there is a continued thought, or when a thought is supposed to trail off. We see these used in daily conversation, but it’s much easier to understand their use in books. Let’s see an example:


Why I autta…


Here, the speaker did finish his sentence, so it’s technically a fully-formed thought. It feels confusing at first because if we don’t understand the context, then this sentence may not make any sense. We can assume the speaker is upset, because this phrase implies a threat of violence. This construction, called an aposiopesis, breaks off speech prematurely for effect, and is a common use for ellipses.


The Exclamation

We’re back in familiar territory with the exclamation mark, also very common in other languages. Exclamation marks tell the reader where there is strong emotion. A good way to think about this one is to imagine someone yelling. If a period is your inside voice, then an exclamation would be your outside voice. Let’s see an example:


Look out!


Easy stuff. What does this sentence imply? There’s some kind of imminent danger (maybe a dog in a street of busy cars), and someone is warning another about it. If we used a period instead, the sentence would lose all urgency. The difference between Stop! and Stop. is vast. You can even have your students say these out loud to highlight how one should read these on paper.


That’s all we have for today; thanks for reading! In our next iteration of this series, we’re going to be talking about splitting a sentence, which can be a bit more complicated and nuanced than sentence enders. But we’re happy you joined us to check out the wonderful world of punctuation and ending sentences. Want to review? Check out our lessons. Think you’ve mastered sentence endings? Head over to to test your skills.