If a question is asked in surprise, informally many people use "?!" as their ending punctuation, as in the following:

What did you do to my sausages?!

According to the accepted answer in this question, this is considered incorrect by experts. In that case, which punctuation ought to be omitted and which used?

What did you do to my sausages!

Seems incorrect, as the question is no longer punctuated by a question mark, but

What did you do to my sausages?

loses the punch of the exclamation mark and thus requires extra words to get the point across.

  • 6
    According to the accepted answer you quote, some experts consider it incorrect. But the accepted answer itself discounts those experts as overly proscriptive.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jan 16, 2012 at 18:16

3 Answers 3


Using the question-mark alone is the formal, grammatically correct thing to do.

Informally, however, the use of ?! or !? is actually an interrobang, and you could write it with a single punctuation mark if you really wanted to:

What did you do to my sausages‽

I've never seen anyone do this before, though. Let me know how it works out.

  • There is a small but dedicated group of people using the interrobang, of which I’m one. Even if most people aren’t familiar with it, it’s readily understood, and hey, it’s also useful for saving a character on Twitter or what have you.
    – Jon Purdy
    Commented Jan 16, 2012 at 18:13
  • 2
    I rather like the interrobang but it's not commonly accepted yet, at least not in AmE. One major problem is that the one you typed looks at first glance like a question mark in a strange font rather than a separate mark. The ones on wikipedia across various fonts look better. Commented Jan 16, 2012 at 19:48
  • @Yamikuronue It was cut and pasted from Wikipedia. Along with this :P
    – Lunivore
    Commented Jan 17, 2012 at 1:01
  • @Lunivore yeah, but most of the ones showcased on wiki have the bang going all the way through the interrogatory mark. It's got to be this site's font that's responsible, I'm sure it's the same character. But because it's not standardized, you'll get weirdness like that. Commented Jan 17, 2012 at 13:42
  • Mmm. Can't do much about the fonts on this site I'm afraid! But yes, I prefer the ones with the exclamation mark all through too (when I'm not just using them both separately).
    – Lunivore
    Commented Jan 17, 2012 at 14:27

I was going to just comment the (IMHO incorrect) answer and leave it at that. But that would mean there's nowhere for anyone to upvote what I consider to be the correct answer...

Grammatically-correct doesn't come into it. There's no rule of grammar that says just because a statement has characteristics typical of questions (in this case, starts with the word "What"), it must be terminated with a question mark.

In order to convey surprise/anger/whatever, it's essential to include the exclamation mark. So if you accept the basic principle that only one should be used, the exclamation mark should be kept and the question mark discarded.

  • This is a good answer. Word order tells you whether an English sentence is a question, so the question mark is the punctuation that can disappear if you feel you must eliminate something, but the exclamation mark is the only thing that indicates a written sentence is an exclamation.
    – alcas
    Commented Jan 16, 2012 at 21:09
  • Well you could write the sentence in capitals, drop the exclamation mark, and keep the question mark. I'm not going to try and find one, but I have the feeling JK Rowling and Terry Pratchett are two writers prone to opt for that method now and again. Commented Jan 16, 2012 at 21:25
  • ...except that just using the exclamation mark suggests that you already have an idea about what happened to the sausages. Most civilised societies like to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt before putting an exclamation mark in place without the question.
    – Lunivore
    Commented Jan 17, 2012 at 0:59
  • 1
    @Lunivore: I think most civilised societies are prepared to make an exception to the general principle of innocent until proven guilty in the case of dirty low-down sob's who appear to have stolen one's sausages! :) Commented Jan 17, 2012 at 1:38

In standard English, replace “?!” with the exclamation point.

Incorrect: What did you do to my sausages?!
Correct: What did you do to my sausages!

The website, WhiteSmoke, provides a good explanation regarding the use of exclamation point:

The exclamation point (!) is a terminal punctuation mark in English and is usually used at the end of a sentence with no extra period. It can turn a simple indicative or declarative sentence into a strong command or reflect an emotional outburst. It can also indicate rhetorical questions. Do not use an exclamation point in texts that are neither literary dialog nor personal expressive writing. It is inappropriate to put an exclamation point in formal pieces of writing such as a business resume, school book report, or a due college paper, as the style expected in these should be objective, standard, and informative. Using an exclamation point in such settings creates an impression of unwarranted exaggeration, which in turn is perceived as amateurish, marketing oriented or just plainly childish. Do use it in stories and personal communication, and even then, sparingly.

  • 1
    Your quote doesn't seem to address the situation of a non-rhetorical question with emphasis... Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 21:43

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.