Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Question Mark and Exclamation Points Together ?! Interabang Explained


May we use ?! and !? or ???? or !!!! in writing? It is unacceptable to use the aforementioned in academic writing, in formal writing, in business writing and by good writers. Its use points to the writer as uneducated or too lazy to think of the proper words. In recent years and in more casual writing, ?! and alternatively !? became popular through comic strip cartoons. Often the cloud above a character’s head will contain  interrobongs or interabangs  (in-TER-a-bang) which is what [?!] and [!?] are called, the latter spelling being the preferred choice.


Punctuation at the end of a sentence is called terminal punctuation. There is the period [.], which ends most sentences. The question mark [?] ends an interrogative sentence and an exclamation point [!] is used after an interjection or exclamation.

An interabang is used to express some question, excitement, surprise or disbelief: I am adopted?!
You did what to the dog!? Please, will you help me?!

Is there a specific way to use the interabang? Yes, it turns out, there is. If you want to use an interabang, place the most important punctuation mark first. “You got into Harvard?!” denotes first surprise that you got accepted followed by the extra emphasis of the unbelievable. “You got into Harvard !?” is excitement for your acceptance followed by the lesser surprise that you got in.  The unwritten rule is that you put first the punctuation you would normally use without its companion.

“What are you doing?” is asking a simple question because I do not know the answer.
“What are you doing!” is disbelief, horror or worry regarding what you are doing that I see and I understand.
“What are you doing?!” is surprise and disbelief and “What are you doing!?” is disbelief followed by why would you do something like that?

There is a glyph (symbol) for an interabang but it is not found in most fonts. Apparently you can find it text editor or by using Americana font. I could not find it in fonts and I do not have text editor but it looks like this. It is combination of a question mark and an exclamation point. Most people use "?!" or "!?"

There are several other uses of the word interabang in unrelated instances. One is a web site of an English design firm, interabangUK, another is a travel web site, Interabang travels with Trisha and Derrick, plus various others within a variety of unrelated subjects.

The question is it ever proper under any circumstances to use multiple exclamation points or question marks such as “I am so tired!!!!!” “Where are you?????” The answer is no, unless you want to look stupid and annoy your reader be it in an email, on Facebook or in your writing.

For more information see Nancy Owens Barnes' post on "Exclamanation Mark: Its Use and Abuse!"

P.S. I agree with a reader's comment that to use "ect., etc." is also a no-no.


Angela said...

Oh man!!! Have I been doing it wrong all these years?! :) Thanks for the informative article.

Jennifer Rova said...

Glad you enjoyed it. It was fun to research the concept. I did not know there was a name for this incorrect punctuation.

Anna said...

Hey Jennifer, I never knew this stuff. Terrific!!!

fortboise said...

Hear hear for stamping out the "etc. etc." of punctuation. I do like the subtle difference between "?!" and "!?" however; I can't accept one being "preferred" when they're not the same. (And if I could make a genuine interrobang, that would be yet another variant, the delicately balanced one.)

Jennifer Rova said...

I forgot to include the unnecessary use of a double "etc." thanks for noting it.

Kathy Cooney Dobbs said...

I must be the odd ball out as I sometimes like the use of double's .. maybe it's a throw back to one of my favorite musicals when the King of Siam would often say, "etc., etc., etc. " Hey, Jennifer! Thanks for another informative post !

Donna Hole said...

Thank you very much. This settled an important writerly debate for me :)

Jennifer Rova said...

Donna, you are welcome for the interpretation of interabangs. As you know, the English language changes the most of all the major languages. Words and phrases change the most quickly with punctuation changing more slowly. Good luck in your writing future!

Marco Ferrara said...

Very interesting. I have a question though. What's the correct way to transfer to the reader the feeling of excitement in a question without the use of the improper interbang then? Just by specifying the context? (ex. "What are you doing?" She asked alarmed.)

Jennifer Rova said...

One suggestion: Alarm radiating from her voice, she shouted, "What are you doing!"
Surprised, she asked, "What are you doing?" Try to find some adverb or better yet a verb that shows how you want your character to respond "happily," "sadly," "concerned," "afraid," "scowling," She tapped her foot saying, "What are you doing?" Try to show how she is feeling by describing her reaction instead of using the interrabang.
Hope this this helps.

Shannon Ham said...

Great article, thank you. Just to clarify, are you stating that when the writer is making a statement of shock or disbelief, it is okay to simply place an exclamation point instead of a question mark (if the writer is not expecting an actual answer)? Example: "I was so nervous, who ever heard of such!" or "Who could ask for a better day to travel!" I am confused about statements that start with "Who, What, When", as those are often used to ask a question.