Grammar Tip: Should You Use Double Punctuation?!

Hello! Welcome to Grammar Tip Tuesday, where I bring you a (hopefully) helpful grammar tip so that you can be smarter than everyone else.

Today’s tip will be short and sweet and concerns a personal pet peeve of mine: double punctuation.

Example: “You mean you’re breaking up with me?!”

Note the use of an exclamation point and a question mark at the end of this sentence. While this might (read: MIGHT) be acceptable if you’re, say, writing an informal email or text to a friend, the double punctuation marks here should not be used in formal writing such as a book or paper.

I understand the idea behind doing this, because a sentence such as the example above is a question but is also intended to be read with a degree of surprise, shock, and/or excitement. But this is not grammatically correct, and when I’m editing I remove the second punctuation mark every time. Usually it’s best to stick with the question mark if the sentence is a question. Then, just let the context add an invisible exclamation point.

See also this interesting article from the Subversive Copy Editor Blog.

*Do you agree with me, or do you think the use of double punctuation marks is acceptable?


13 thoughts on “Grammar Tip: Should You Use Double Punctuation?!

  1. Pingback: 7 Helpful Grammar Tips From Richard Castle | Musings of a Mild Mannered Man

  2. When writing dialogue if you don’t use double punctuation, it’s harder to get the emotion across. The example you use of “What do you mean you are breaking up with me?!” does two things. It impresses on the reader a question and the emotions of surprise and anger.

    • From a journalism standpoint, I agree with you that double punctuation is not for use in expressing emotion with dialogue. And, from a reader’s viewpoint, I disagree that double punctuation impresses the emotion you might want the reader to be impressed. I actually think it loses me as a reader. I think I engage more if you bring me into the scene rather than trying to double up on punctuation. Example: “You mean you’re breaking up with me?” she barked vehemently. Or, “You mean you’re breaking up with me?” she said, her gaze turning to such narrow slits I wondered if she was even looking at me. I didn’t get the true emotion you might want me come away with by just doubling up on punctuation.

      • Well I think the form of writing where double punctuation is a bit more relevant is playwriting. The author has a bit more leeway there because plays are not really intended to be read. Sure they can be read but that is not their main purpose. Plays are written to be spoken so double punctuation is a tool playwrights have been known to use to get the intended emption of certain lines across to both the actors and the audience.

      • I agree with you here. I personally don’t like when an author uses double quotation marks. It’s as if they’re worried I won’t get the emotion from just their writing so they have to double up. But I can see the point written in the below comment about playwriting. That’s not something I’m as familiar with, but obviously the emotion of the actors will come across, so in playwriting it might be easier to use the ?!. Thanks for your input!

  3. I came across the following sentence in an email:

    Could you please add the following team members to the alias so that everyone has access to the automated GUTs reports?:

     collin@
     james@

    What would you say about putting question mark and colon together in the sentence?

  4. I confess that I have appreciation for double punctuation . . . when used sparingly; since most of human communication happens without words, I’ve begun to appreciate the edge that punctuation can give the written word with regard to communicating tone or urgency (laconically, mind you). Granted, some people can misconstrue or misunderstand authorial intent (which I think is the role of the formal study of poetry), some people misunderstand the value or the intention of perfectly grammatically sound sentences, such as many that include semicolons.

    Arguing that it shouldn’t be used ever simply because it violates grammar rules, which are in flux anyway, rejects that it can be a stylistic choice that adds diversity to writing or can amplify exclamations or questions, neither of which has a stronger (or weaker) alternate. I choose to accept that different punctuation is appropriate to different situations: “Could you please pass the potatoes?” vs. “You did what?!”.

    If I’m not mistaken, a word or sentence in all capital letters is considered grammatically incorrect, yet it conveys a sense of someone shouting so tangibly: “YOU DID WHAT?”. Should that also be absolutely avoided as it is grammatically incorrect?

  5. Okay, so I am NOT as okay with the rule as you are. . . Is there a set of rules to follow when you are not following the rules due to artist freedom?

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