Punctuation: The Exclamation Mark

Definition: a punctuation mark (!) indicating an exclamation.

Note: Do not rely on grammar or spelling checkers to identify missing or misused punctuation. Although a checker may flag possibly missing or incorrect marks, it cannot do much else. While I still recommend using these AI checkers while you’re writing, I insist that you also trust a qualified human being to copyedit any work that you are working toward publishing.

An exclamation point should be used only to indicate an interjection or a high degree of emotion. Be careful not to overuse it. Some authors even refuse to use a single exclamation point in their writing, believing them to be “a cheating method” of displaying emotion.

In Expressions of Emotion:

Use an exclamation point to indicate emotionally laden imperatives.

  • e.g. Watch out!
  • e.g. Come here!

Use an exclamation to indicate surprise.

  • e.g. Wow!
  • e.g. I can’t believe it!

Do not use an exclamation point after mild exclamations.

  • e.g. What a great show.

With Other Punctuation:

Exclamation points are placed inside quotation marks, parentheses, or brackets if it is part of the enclosed material.

  • e.g. “Get out!” Sally screamed.
  • e.g. Katherine (naturally!) was the first to show up after the accident.

Exclamation points are placed outside quotation marks, parentheses, or brackets if it is not part of the enclosed material, but instead part of the main sentence.

  • e.g. I’m going to absolutely lose it if you keep singing “It’s a Small World”!
  • e.g. You’re an idiot (and crazy)!

Do not use a period, comma, colon, or semicolon immediately after an exclamation point.

  • e.g. Seuss, Dr. Oh, the Places You’ll Go! New York: Random House, 1990.

Using an exclamation point together with a question mark is called an interrobang. It indicates a question spoken with added intensity or emotion. Often, rules state that a question mark overrules an exclamation mark. Personally, I refrain from using interrobangs.

  • e.g. “Where do you think you’re going?!” he demanded.

VS

  • e.g. “Where do you think you’re going?” he demanded.

Do not use more than one exclamation mark to end a sentence in any level of serious writing (such as story writing or formal writing).

For further information, see my other Punctuation articles:

Sources:

Aaron, J.E. & Morrison, A. The Little, Brown Compact Handbook, 5th Canadian ed. Pearson, 2013, chap 5

Judd, K. Copyediting, A Practical Guide, 3rd ed. California, CA: Crisp Learning, 2001, chap 4

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