Which one of the following sentences is correct (or more acceptable):

Honor your creativity and write down anything that comes to mind (no matter how silly!).

Honor your creativity and write down anything that comes to mind (no matter how silly!)

Notice how there is a period at the end of the first sentence, but not in the second sentence.

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    I personally don't like the grammar rules regarding punctuation next to parentheses or quotation marks. John asked: "Will you marry me?"! Because of rules, this punctuation placement is impossible, but their usage adds clarity to the meaning behind the sentence - the quote contains a question and the speaker is excited about it. I would suggest the same be true of your statement: silly!). The parenthesized clause is to be read as an exclamation while not changing the tone of the original sentence which would have otherwise ended with a period. – Ian MacDonald Mar 6 '15 at 5:29
  • So to clarify Ian; the first sentence is correct (although strange looking)? – user112771 Mar 6 '15 at 9:00
  • @Ian: I think John asked: "Will you marry me?"! is allowed by a number of style guides. – Peter Shor Mar 6 '15 at 11:37
  • I would use )! – Hot Licks Mar 6 '15 at 13:41
  • Well, from what I have gathered using a period outside of parentheses that include an exclamation mark is fine to do (as in the example I provided above). However, it is preferable to not do this. Correct? – user112771 Mar 6 '15 at 13:45

The Chicago Manual of Style, fifteenth edition (2003) offers this reasonably straightforward style advice under the general category "Parentheses":

6.103 With other punctuation. ... A question mark, an exclamation point, and closing quotation marks precede a closing parenthesis if they belong to the parenthetical matter; they follow it if they belong to the surrounding sentence. A period precedes the closing parenthesis if the entire sentence is in parentheses; otherwise it follows.

This simple pair of rules endorses putting the exclamation mark inside the closing parenthesis (since the exclamation in question is the parenthetical "no matter how silly!") and putting a period outside the closing parenthesis (since the sentence as a whole is not end-punctuated by the parenthetical exclamation mark). Thus Chicago appears to approve of this form:

Honor your creativity and write down anything that comes to mind (no matter how silly!).

If you aren't a fan of punctuation overload at the end of a sentence, you have at least two convenient alternatives that avoid the "!)." ending here. One is an appealing choice if you don't feel that the exclamation point is crucial to the point you're trying to make. In that case, you can simply drop the exclamation point altogether:

Honor your creativity and write down anything that comes to mind (no matter how silly).

On the other hand, if you don't want to lose the excitement of the exclamation point, you can take the parenthetical expression out of parentheses and set it off instead with an em-dash:

Honor your creativity and write down anything that comes to mind—no matter how silly!

Either way, you avoid a pileup of exclamation point/closing parenthesis/period at the end of the sentence, if such a pileup is something you'd just as soon not have.

As usual with style questions involving punctuation, the Chicago approach is just one of many possible approaches. If you're free to pick your own style, go with one that suits your own preferences; if you have to follow a house or school style, find out what it is and stick with it.

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As a disclaimer, I have only personal experience by which to answer this question. That said, the second sentence is definitely incorrect - parentheses must either enclose an entire sentence (punctuation included) or else part of a sentence with the ending punctuation excluded. The first sentence is correct, but I think it would have been better written as follows, and would not have lost any meaning:

Honor your creativity and write down anything that comes to mind (no matter how silly)!

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  • I appreciate your insight Tucker. Would you say that it is always correct to "double punctuate" in this way? I've always personally found it strange on the eyes. – user112771 Mar 6 '15 at 5:09
  • It is a bit strange because it's more common in older writings, but I have seen examples, even in some contemporary authors, of situations in which the author can better communicate by putting exclamation points or question marks within sentences; I have never seen it done with a period, though. – Tucker Sigourney Mar 6 '15 at 5:14
  • You may also find it helpful to read the answers to this question – Tucker Sigourney Mar 6 '15 at 5:21
  • What is the basis of this answer? Please add some references. – curiousdannii Mar 6 '15 at 11:16
  • That would be helpful! – user112771 Mar 6 '15 at 13:43

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