Some Uncommon Punctuation Marks and Their Meaning

An exclamation mark, question mark, or comma may not be enough to express your ideas when writing. Being grammatically correct can sometimes hinder your ability to communicate precisely what you need.

You might also find yourself wanting to be creative when you write. Whatever the reason, here are some interesting but strangely uncommon punctuation marks that we should use!

Nine Uncommon Punctuation Marks

red and white symbols for punctuation marks on white paper.
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

1. Interrobang

We’re starting our list with probably the most valuable and interesting punctuation mark that hasn’t caught on. Most people who are reading this combine the exclamation mark and question mark. This combination is used to express disbelief, surprise, and sometimes anger. For example:

  • What are you even talking about?!?

So, why don’t we create a punctuation mark that mixes these two things? That is where the interrobang comes in.

The interrobang looks like an exclamation point and a question mark. It is used to ask a question in a shocked or excited tone.

  • What are you even talking about 

Technically you can still write an exclamation point followed by a question mark (or vice versa). But the interrobang looks much more eye-catching, don’t you think?

The Unicode of this symbol is U+203D.

2. The Percontation Point

This strange symbol (⸮) looks like a mirrored image of a question mark, not to be confused with the reversed question mark (¿) in Spanish. 

The rhetorical question mark is what it sounds like — it signifies the question is rhetorical. This means the person asking the question is not looking for an answer. Let’s take a look at an example to see it in action:

  • Oh, do you want to drive this old car for the rest of your life?

The person doesn’t want to know if he or she wants to drive an old car. It is encouragement so that the other person goes out and gets a better job.

3. Irony Mark

Commonly confused with the percontation point, this is explicitly made for denoting irony and sarcasm in the sentence. The creator of this symbol is the French writer Herve Bazin. Bazin, the French author, not only invented this symbol but five others in his books.

Let’s see this sign in action with an example:

  • The police station was robbed at gunpoint — we would use the irony mark; however, it doesn’t exist in the Unicode, sadly.

4. Asterism

Astronomers refer to an asterism as a pattern. However, in punctuation, an asterism is a trio of three asterisk marks (⁂). Another way to call it is the triple asterisk.

This symbol is used to mark part of a text or indicate minor breaks in novels. A minor break, in this sense, means a break within a chapter.

The Unicode of this symbol is as follows: U+2042 (⁂)

5. Reference Mark or Dagger or Obelisk

Reference marks refer to symbols used to indicate information in a footnote, endnote, bibliography, etc. 

Maybe asterisks have served in this capacity, but in text with many references, the dagger (†) or double dagger (‡) is also used.

You probably saw this if you read academic books or journals frequently, at the end of the quoted sentence.

The Unicode of these symbols is U+2020 for the Dagger and U+2021 for the Double Dagger.

6. Hedera

Hedera or fleuron (❦) is vine-like foliage, which can be used vertically or horizontally. The hedera was used to mark sentences into paragraphs, which became a mark for pure ornamentation.

This character’s falling out could be because of its difficult shape. Nowadays, that may not be a huge problem in the time of computers, but drawing this character by hand is very challenging.

7. Caret

This punction mark isn’t that uncommon, and editors still use it when they are proofreading. Caret is Latin for “they lack” and accurately describes their function as proofreading instruments used to indicate anything missing in a text.

Let’s look at how we would use this punctuation mark:

  • After meeting up with Mary, John went to ^ library.

In this example, the editor uses punctuation to point out the missing word, in this case, an article, to the writer. Instead of highlighting the sentence, caret shows where the error is exactly so writers can correct their writing.

8. Section

This is another well-known punctuation mark, at least in legal circles. When lawyers state their case and wish to refer to the legal code to strengthen their argument, they use the section (§) sign.

9. Snark

Don’t confuse this punctuation mark with the little critters in Half-Life. Snark stands for the sarcasm mark, and it is placed at the end of the sentence.

Let’s write an example for a clearer picture:

  • Oh wow, when you leave the car on, the battery dies — who knew!.~

Although, no one writes this way, using the snark at the end of the sentence. Instead, most people choose to put the sarcastic word in quotation marks to let the reader know.

  • You figured it out; look at how “smart” you are!

To Wrap Up

The English language is incredibly rich in vocabulary; however, it is also rich in punctuation marks in writing as well.

It’s just that we chose to rely on a few punctuation marks instead of using the whole arsenal: your typical comma, period, a hyphen, etc.

However, you can still run into these strange symbols if you are reading an esoteric book by a French author! So next time, at least you’ll know what these punctuation marks mean!

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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