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How Some Punctuation Marks Came About

Updated on June 19, 2015

The origins of some of today’s punctuation marks can be rooted to ancient Greece and Rome. Here are some interesting facts about how some punctuation marks started and became what they are today.

Quotation marks started out in ancient tests as lips but turned on their sides. Writers of those times wanted a way to show when the words they were writing were spoken by another person so they came up with two curved marks to denote the lips of the person speaking. The first lip was positioned at the beginning of the quote while the second was placed at the end. Eventually, they became the tiny set of double lips which are now the quotation marks used today.

Question marks trace its roots in ancient Rome as the Latin word quaestio meaning “question.” This word was inserted when asking questions in their text. As time went on, the word was shortened to Qo then Q with a period beneath the letter. However, the Roman letter Q was similar to the Arabic numeral 2, which became the question mark symbol today.

Improving Punctuation

The exclamation point has its origin in ancient Greece. IO was an ancient Greek word showing excitement similar to the word wow. And so to show excitement, Greek writers placed the word IO within the text that shows they are excited. As time went by, the scholars replaced the o with a dot until the dot came to rest below the I which is what the symbol looks like today.

Just like the exclamation point, the period came from the ancient Greek word komma meaning “a little knife” or “to cut off.” Writers positioned the symbol when showing a clause of phrase or a group of words separated from the body of a sentence.

Kinds of Punctuation

1. Tone Marks

These symbols came first and were designed to use in writing to be read aloud.

Declarative (. , ;)


Exclamatory (!)

Parenthesis ()

Elaborative (:)

Quotation (“”)

2. Refinements

These were developed later and were designed for writing and silent reading

Brackets (}

Capital Letters



Ellipsis (. . .)

Dash (-)

Apostrophes and hyphens are practically additional letters. They are integrated in the spelling system and are not punctuation marks.

In Greek writing, the semicolon stands for a question mark and a raised dot represents a semi colon. In Spanish writing, the inverted exclamation mark and question mark is placed at the beginning at the beginning of a sentence.

Learning of a bit of the background of some punctuation marks matter because from them we get to educate ourselves about how long punctuation and writing has gone through the years.


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