Punctuating sentences

Sentences should begin with a capital letter and end with a full stop, an exclamation mark or a question mark.

Full stops

Full stops are essential to separate sentences. Here is an example of a piece of writing where the full stops are missing. When you read it out loud, you will notice that it doesn’t quite make sense. You might find that, to make it easier to read, you naturally insert pauses where full stops should be:

This is an old city there are buildings that were constructed many hundreds of years ago one, hidden down behind the steps in the main square, was built in the 11th century it is hard to imagine how many feet have walked across its floors, how many hands have opened its doors from its rooftops, ugly gargoyles snarl at passers-by the building is theirs, they seem to say we are all newcomers here

Here it is again with full stops added:

This is an old city. There are buildings that were constructed many hundreds of years ago. One, hidden down behind the steps in the main square, was built in the 11th century. It is hard to imagine how many feet have walked across its floors, how many hands have opened its doors. From its rooftops, ugly gargoyles snarl at passers-by. The building is theirs, they seem to say. We are all newcomers here.

Notice how the piece has more shape with the full-stops included. It is easier to read and understand.

Exclamation marks

Sentences can also finish with exclamation marks. These change the tone of a sentence, adding emphasis, suggesting that it is shouted, or that the statement itself is outrageous. For example: He ran up the hill. It was enormous!

She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. He was seven hundred years old!

‘Wait!’ he said. ‘Please.’

Use exclamation marks sparingly (and avoid the temptation to add more than one to the end of a sentence.)

Question marks

An interrogative sentence is one that asks a question. This sort of sentence is indicated by a question mark.

For example:

  • Where do you live?
  • What is the square root of 49?
  • Having read the manifestos of all the political parties, which way will you vote?