In a famous Seinfeld episode, the character Elaine had a fight with her boyfriend that ultimately led to a breakup when he didn't use an exclamation mark in a message he left her about her friend having a baby. Clearly, he could have been helped by some guidance on the rules for proper exclamation mark usage.
Fortunately, this guide below should save you from a similar fate by helping you learn just when and how to use an exclamation mark to punctuate your sentences.
An exclamation mark is a type of punctuation mark that goes at the end of a sentence. Other examples of related punctuation marks include periods and question marks, which also go at the end of sentences. An exclamation mark, also called an exclamation point, essentially looks like a period with a vertical line over it: !
Although exclamation marks were introduced into the English language in the 15th century, they did not even exist as a separate key on standard typewriters until the 1970s (apparently, people just weren't as excited back then!). Fortunately, exclamation marks now have a prominent place on computer keyboards on the number 1 key.
Exclamation marks were originally called the "note of admiration." They are still, to this day, used to express excitement. They are also used to express surprise, astonishment, or any other such strong emotion. Any exclamatory sentence can be properly followed by an exclamation mark, to add additional emphasis. After all, doesn't "I am excited!" convey a lot more "I am excited."
They are commonly used after interjections (words or phrases that are used to exclaim, command or protest). Interjections include terms such as oh, wow, and boy.
For example, "Wow! This grammar stuff is interesting. Boy! I wish I'd learned it before. Oh! That's right, I did."
When used in a quote, exclamation marks should be inside the quotation marks: Joe said, "I like pizza a lot!"
Exclamation marks go at the end of sentences. Typically, only one exclamation mark is used. In informal writing, people often use one (or many) to emphasize their excitement.
For example: "No!!! I told you metal can't go in the microwave!" certainly gets the point across and has a lot more impact as you run for the fire extinguisher.
Informally, exclamation marks can also be used with question marks to express shock, protest or dismay.
For example: "What do you mean you forgot the plane tickets?!?!?!?"
There is some dispute in regards to whether exclamation marks belong in formal writing or not. Most conventional grammar rules say that they don't belong, or at a minimum should be used sparingly. All sorts of arguments have been made against the exclamation point - everything from the fact that the writing should create its own emphasis to the belief that an exclamation mark will distract the reader.
However, some prolific writers do use exclamation marks freely in their work and one best-selling author, Tom Wolfe, is known for being a big fan of the exclamation mark. Comic books frequently use exclamation marks for emphasis and to add excitement to their pages.
Certain famous brands have incorporated the exclamation mark into their name. For example Jeopardy! is a lot more exciting then just Jeopardy, and Yahoo! really has to have to that exclamation mark accompanying it.
While a few exclamation marks may be fine in creative writing it's probably best to leave them out of very formal or academic writing.
Here are some example sentences that use exclamation marks: