Is a question mark a full stop?

They are similar in one respect: question marks and full stops (known as periods in American English) are two of the three types of punctuation marks which are used to indicate the end of a section of printed or written text (often called end marks or terminal punctuation). However, each shows the end of a different type of statement:

  • a full stop shows the end of a sentence;
  • a question mark indicates the end of a question;
  • an exclamation mark (exclamation point in American English) shows the end of an exclamation.

Let’s focus on the question mark (also called an interrogation point or interrogation mark) first. The main function of a question mark is to show the end of a question. The question can either be part of direct speech (which quotes the actual words someone said in a conversation):

I said to the assistant, ‘Do you have any books about bird-watching?’

‘What time do you want to meet?’, he asked her.

or the question can be a thought expressed by a writer:

What did she do to deserve such treatment?

If you’re not repeating the actual words said by someone but you’re giving a summary or paraphrase of what was said (reported or indirect speech), it’s not necessary to use a question mark:

I asked the assistant if she had any books about bird-watching.

He asked her what time she wanted to meet him.

There are two other functions of the question mark:

  • to show uncertainty about a fact: Tiglath-Pileser I (reigned ?1115-1077 BC)
  • to indicate a writer’s doubt about something, often to create a humorous effect: what a lovely(?) day [when it’s pouring with rain].

The main role of a full stop (also called a full point) is to indicate the end of a sentence:

Her father was a diplomat; her mother was a doctor.

There were only a few places left on the course.

The full stop is also used:

  • in some abbreviations: p.m.; e.g.; etc.
  • to separate different parts of website or email addresses:

Many people aren’t sure about how to use full stops and question marks with quotation marks: there’s some clear advice here.


See other Questions about symbols.
You may also be interested in: What is the origin of the '@' symbol?

See more from Questions About Symbols