An exclamation point (or exclamation mark in British English) is a punctuation mark that people love to use. Unfortunately, people love to use them so much that they have rather lost their impact within sentences compared to days past. But we’re here to fix that. This guide will take you through when to use an exclamation point, when not to use one, and show you some common mistakes that writers make every day without realizing it. At the end we’ll provide a quiz to test your knowledge, so you can reassure yourself that you’re an exclamation point genius!
Exclamation Mark/ Exclamation Point (!)
American vs. British Usage of the Exclamation Point
An exclamation point (U.S.) or exclamation mark (UK) is the same punctuation mark. In both cases, we use them in an exclamatory sentence where we want to show emphasis or excitement about something in particular. In this respect, we use exclamation points in the same way, the only difference being the name for them.
What is an Exclamation Mark?
The exclamation mark or exclamation point is a punctuation mark (!) used to express strong feelings or emotions. It is commonly used after exclamations or interjections.
An exclamation point is used to show emphasis. It can be used in the middle of a sentence or at the end of a sentence. When used at the end of a sentence, it also takes on the role of a full stop or a period.
The exclamation mark can also be used to show amusement. It can also be used for direct speech that is said loudly.
For both native speakers and English learners, exclamation marks seem to be used more often than what is required. So here we are going to explain how and when to use the exclamation point correctly with useful examples.
Key Points to Remember
Exclamation points are excellent at showing excitement or emphasis, but they are seen as relatively informal. They shouldn’t really be used in academic or formal writing, and they should never be overused, or else they can lose their meaning. Using them sparingly to show emphasis is great, but an excellent writer shouldn’t rely on punctuation marks to convey the message all the time.
When to Use an Exclamation Point
There is only really one use for the exclamation point, especially in formal writing, and that is to show emphasis or excitement. Readers will understand your reasoning for an exclamation point based on the context surrounding your sentence. For example, if you are writing a work of fiction and are in the middle of a tense battle scene, then writing something like this -“Run for your life!” – would be taken as somebody shouting the sentence because of the tense situation they are in.
Similarly, if two characters were meeting up for the first time in a long time and they said something like this – “Wow! You look amazing.” – then the reader would know that they were excited to see one another and the exclamation point is not being used for aggressive shouting this time, but rather an enthusiastic compliment.
Very few punctuation marks rely on context for their meaning in quite the same way as the exclamation point does. The context surrounding it will tell the reader how the sentence should be read. Here are some examples of using an exclamation point correctly:
- “Get out!” she yelled.
The rock crumbled, and the house fell into the sea alongside it!
- “You threw me a surprise party!” she said with a smile.
Specifically, an exclamation point is used for:
- It is used to demonstrate strong feelings or emotions such as shock, surprise, anger, or a raised voice.
“Aah! It’s eating my leg!”; “Ah! There you are!”; “Grrr, I’ll hit your head!”
- It is used to give a command.
“Stop!”; “Sit down!”
- It is commonly used after interjections or exclamatory sentences.
“Oh dear! I’ve lost my keys again.”; “How interesting this film is!”
- Used to show emphasis.
“Hey!” he shouted at the passerby.
- At the end of a statement to show emphasis.
“I won’t do it!”
- To show amusement.
“They thought I was the hired clown!”
- To show words said loudly.
“Don’t forget to bring the book with you!”
- It can also be used in informal writing or to express irony, humor, or sarcasm.
When Not to Use an Exclamation Point
There are several cases in which you shouldn’t use an exclamation point. The first two are to do with when another punctuation mark is more appropriate, and the second two are to do with style and, dare we say it, writing etiquette. Check them out below:
Whenever we ask a standard question, an exclamation point shouldn’t be used. This is because the question mark better communicates the meaning behind the sentence. Like this:
- What time is the movie?
However, sometimes you can use an exclamation point to end a question, if the exclamation point better communicates the tone of the sentence. For example:
- How did I forget the passports!
In the above case, some writers will use both an exclamation point and a question mark, although the exclamation point is the only punctuation that is strictly necessary. When using exclamation points in place of question marks, it should only ever be done when the tone of the sentence requires it. Otherwise, a question mark is standard.
Whenever you are making a simple statement, you need to finish it with a full stop or period. Statements are known as declarative sentences, and these should always end at a full stop. Using an exclamation point instead would not make sense, because you are not trying to show excitement or emphasis. Statements like these should always end in a full stop:
- Today the weather was hot.
- The dog sat on the porch and lazily chewed his bone.
- Making it to school on time would be a struggle in the snow, but Carrie was determined to do it.
Exclamation points are seen as informal punctuation. If you are writing academically, then it is suggested that you avoid the use of exclamation marks altogether. This is because they have a way of making the reader feel as though the writer is very sure of themselves, which as in an academic essay you should never do because a balanced argument is key.
Likewise, if you are writing a report for a business about recent sales, for example, you would need to be wary of your tone. Which of these looks more professional?
- Sales have almost doubled in the past year! This is, in part at least, due to the efforts of the marketing team!
- Sales have almost doubled in the past year. This is, in part at least, due to the efforts of the marketing team.
- Notice the difference? That is why generally exclamation points should be avoided in more formal writing.
Overuse of Exclamation Points
This point is possibly the biggest one when it comes to exclamation points. They are so very overused in writing nowadays and doing so makes the writer seem unprofessional. In fictional work, for example, a writer should not have to rely on exclamation points to convey the meaning behind the sentence every time. Instead, they should be able to describe the scene and the context in such a way that the exclamation points aren’t necessary. Yes, exclamation points have their place in writing, but they should be used sparingly in order to increase their effectiveness in a piece.
Common Mistakes with Exclamation Points
In much the same way as periods, exclamation points are placed in the wrong position most often when other punctuation marks are involved. Thankfully, they do have rules.
Exclamation Points and Quotation Marks
Below we’ll show you the most common mistakes with exclamation points and quotation marks and then show you the correct way to write it:
- Incorrect: “Help, they’re chasing after me,” she yelled!
- Correct: “Help, they’re chasing after me!” she yelled.
If you are going to use an exclamation point in this scenario, then the exclamation point should come inside the quotation marks because it does not apply to the entire sentence. But what if it did?
- Incorrect: Danny watched in horror as a woman ran by yelling “help, they’re chasing after me!”
- Correct: Danny watched in horror as a woman ran by yelling “help, they’re chasing after me”!
In this scenario, the exclamation point shows that the whole sentence was exclamatory, not just the quote, so it should be used outside of the quotation marks in this case.
Exclamation Points and Parentheses
Again, we’ll show you the incorrect examples followed by the correct examples below:
- Incorrect: The woman paid little attention to the man standing beside her (one of the men who had chased her earlier)!
- Correct: The woman paid little attention to the man standing beside her (one of the men who had chased her earlier!).
Here, we need an exclamation point inside the parentheses because it only applies to that part. The woman hadn’t noticed the man standing beside her, so she wouldn’t be exasperated or anything else that would require an exclamation point to be used. But what if the exclamation point applied to the entire sentence, not just within the parentheses?
- Incorrect: The man won a million dollars (in cash!).
- Correct: The man won a million dollars (in cash)!
Here, the parentheses simply supply additional information, but the entire sentence is exclamatory because we have put emphasis on everything. To just place an exclamation point inside the parentheses suggests that the ‘cash’ is the part you want to emphasize, when in reality it’s the entire sentence.
Exclamation Mark vs. Question Mark vs. Full Stop
The exclamation point (!) is commonly used after exclamations or interjections. A full stop (.) is mostly used at the end of a declarative sentence. While we often use a question mark (?) after an interrogative sentence in English.
Examples of Using Exclamation Points in Sentences
Examples of exclamation marks which are used after interjections.
- “Ahem! Can I make a suggestion?”
- “Bingo! That’s the one I’ve been looking for.”
- “Boo!” they shouted, “Get off!”
- “A seven-layer wedding cake? Ooh-la-la!”
- “Push on 3.. 1, 2, 3.. oomph!”
- “Oy! I left my purse at home.”
- “Can I sit here?” “Uh hu!”
- “Is Paul here yet?” “Uh-uh!”
- “No school for five weeks – yippee!”
- “Yuck! I hate mayonnaise.”
Examples of exclamation points which are used after exclamatory sentences.
- What beautiful weather!
- How interesting this film is!
- How well she sings!
- The meal was so good!
- She’s such a quiet girl!
- They are such kind people!
- Sit down!
- John, don’t touch that!
- Hello! How are you?
- Good night!
- Thank you!
- Please, help me!
(!) Exclamation Point/ Exclamation Mark Image
Exclamation Point Quiz
Below, we’ll provide some sentences using exclamation points. Decide whether they are correct or incorrect, and if you think they are incorrect, how would you write them?
- The bird sat on the fence peacefully (the cat was already stalking its prey!).
- “How could you!” she yelled.
- “Get out of here,” he shouted!
The emphasis here is within the parentheses because the bird is relaxing on the fence, unaware of the cat’s presence.
BUT, it depends on the context. Here, it is appropriate because the woman is clearly distressed; we know this because she yelled it. Remember, we only use exclamation points for questions when it better displays the tone than a question mark would.
The exclamation point here suggests the entire sentence is exclamatory, but really it’s only what’s inside the quotation marks that need to be emphasized. It should look like this:
“Get out of here!” he shouted.