Pro Tip Tuesday #8: Punctuation with question marks and exclamation points

A few tips from chapters 6 and 14 of the Chicago Manual on question marks and exclamation points with other punctuation.

These two basic rules apply both in running text (including dialogue) and in citations:

  1. If a period would normally follow something ending in a question mark or exclamation point, omit the period. (6.124, 14.96)
    • She stood up and shouted, “I don’t believe you!”
    • Two years later, she played the title role in Hello, Dolly!
    • Albee, Edward. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? New York: Atheneum, 1962.
    • Munroe, What If? [Short-form footnote citing the book as a whole.]
  2. If a comma would normally follow, omit the comma unless the thing ending in a question mark or exclamation point is a work title. If the work title is in quotation marks, the comma comes before the closing quotation mark as normal. (6.125, 14.96)
    • “Why are you like this?” they yelled.
    • “You need to get your own copy of the Chicago Manual of Style!” he insisted. [Note that because the exclamation point isn’t part of the title—though wouldn’t that be fun?—the comma is omitted and the exclamation point is not italicized.]
    • Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first musical, Oklahoma!, was given a Special Tony Award for its fiftieth anniversary in 1993.
    • He said his favorite song was David Bowie’s “Life On Mars?,” but he didn’t know any of the words.
    • Carolyn Abbate, “Music—Drastic or Gnostic?,” Critical Inquiry 30 (Spring 2004): 505–36.

Here’s a third rule that only applies to work titles:

  1. When the main title of a work ends in a question mark or exclamation point and is followed by a subtitle, omit the colon. However, when it ends with a question mark or exclamation point followed by a quotation mark, keep the colon. (14.96)
    • Claudia Macdonald, “Are We There? Women’s Studies in a Professional Music Program,” Women and Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture 8 (2004): 42–46.
    • Elissa Harbert, “‘Ever to the Right’? The Political Life of 1776 in the Nixon Era,” American Music 35, no. 2 (Summer 2017): 237–70. [Although the main title has quotation marks around it, the question mark isn’t part of the quoted phrase, so it follows the quotes and the colon is omitted.]
    • Robert K. McMichael, “‘We Insist—Freedom Now!’: Black Moral Authority, Jazz, and the Changeable Shape of Whiteness,” American Music 16, no. 4 (Winter 1998): 375–416. [In this case, the exclamation point is part of the quoted phrase that makes up the main title, so it comes before the closing quotation mark and the colon is not omitted.]