We’re all guilty of using exclamation points when we shouldn’t. But sometimes, a period just won’t suffice — and your excitement wants to jump off the page! (Just like that!) There’s nothing wrong with using the occasional exclamation point to show some feeling in your writing, as long as you know when they’re appropriate (and when they’re not).
When and How To Use an Exclamation Point ( ! )
What Is an Exclamation Point?
- I got into college. (Calm tone)
- I got into college! (Excited tone)
- I got into college? (Confused tone)
- Take out the trash. (Calm tone)
- Take out the trash! (Angry tone)
- Take out the trash? (Confused tone)
Exclamation Point Examples
Exclamation points can affect the tone of a sentence in ways that a period can’t. Some examples of exclamation in a sentence include:
- Yes, I will marry you!
- Oh! That is a gorgeous dress!
- Wow! I can't believe I ran into you here.
- Jessica told me that you’re having a baby!
- “You are in a lot of trouble!” shouted Will’s dad.
- Help! I locked myself out of my house!
- No! I forgot my homework again!
- My favorite movie is playing. Let’s go!
- You’re supposed to use two coats of paint, not one!
- Stop! Don't throw me in the pool!
- How dare you copy my answers!
- “Get out of my way!” snapped the old lady.
Notice that some sentences have exclamation marks after an interjection but a period after the next sentence. This makes the interjection pop in your writing.
When used in a quote, exclamation marks should be inside the quotation marks, just like all punctuation.
Is It “Exclamation Mark” or “Exclamation Point”?
If you’re used to calling this little symbol an exclamation point, then referring to it as an exclamation mark might look a little funny. And if you’re from the United States, there’s a reason — exclamation point is more popular than exclamation mark.
However, exclamation mark is more widely used around the world, particularly in countries that use British English. Use whichever term sounds more correct to you, keeping your audience in mind (American audiences may wrinkle their nose at exclamation mark).
What Do Exclamation Points Do?
It seems obvious to say that exclamation points exclaim, but that’s what they do. They can also make your sentence sound a little ruder than you mean it to be. The key to using exclamation points is understanding how they change the tone of particular sentences — and whether that’s really what you want to do.
Exclamation Points Change Declarations Into Exclamations
When you write a declarative sentence, you’re making a straightforward statement with a period (I love puppies.) Changing the period into an exclamation point creates an exclamatory sentence — a sentence that shows strong emotions.
- I can’t wait to go to Disneyland! (Excited tone)
- You already bought a new car! (Surprised tone)
- How dare you disobey me! (Angry tone)
- That mountain is even bigger than I thought! (Awed tone)
- We don’t want to go to the party! (Emphasizing a point)
Exclamation Points Emphasize Interjections
Is your sentence still not strong enough? You don’t need multiple exclamation points — just add an interjection (a word or phrase that exclaims, commands or protests) followed by an exclamation point.
- Yay! I can’t wait to go to Disneyland!
- Oh! You already bought a new car!
- Hey! How dare you disobey me!
- Wow! That mountain is even bigger than I thought!
- No! We don’t want to go to the party!
Exclamation Marks Turn Requests Into Commands
When an imperative sentence ends in a period, it’s making a polite request or issuing an instruction. The tone is serious and calm.
- Please turn your music down.
- Pass the mashed potatoes.
- Lend me fifty dollars, please.
When you change these periods into exclamation points, you get strong commands (and removing please helps, too).
- Turn your music down!
- Pass the mashed potatoes!
- Lend me fifty dollars!
Where Did the Exclamation Point Come From?
The exclamation point appeared in the English language in the 15th century. Originally called the note of admiration (punctus admirativus), it’s only recently become a mainstay of English writing conventions. F. Scott Fitzgerald himself once declared “Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes.”
In fact, exclamation points did not even exist as a separate key on standard typewriters until the 1970s. Fortunately, exclamation points now have a prominent place on computer keyboards on the number 1 key (sorry, Mr. Fitzgerald).
What Does “?!” Mean?
Exclamation points add emphasis to declarative and imperative sentences, but what about when you want to express surprise in a question (known as an interrogative sentence)? Or when you want to add disbelief to a statement?
That’s where a question mark-exclamation point combo, sometimes known as an interrobang (‽), comes in handy. It combines a question mark and exclamation point (?! or even ?!?!) when neither punctuation mark does the trick.
- You sold your car?! (Incredulous statement)
- How are we going to get home?! (Question with panic)
- We’re out of money?! (Statement with disbelief)
- Are you awake?! (Question with urgency)
As perfect as this combination can be in casual writing, such as in emails or text messages, it’s not a formal writing convention. The same goes for multiple exclamation points (!!!!) — don’t use them outside conversational or informal writing.
What Does It Mean When People Add (!) to Their Sentence?
Another place you may see an exclamation point is between two parentheses in the middle of a sentence. These exclamation points add some conversational flair to written sentences. For example:
- I aced the test (!) and then went to soccer practice.
- Because of the huge storm coming through (!) we couldn’t take the freeway.
- Maribeth said yes (!) before telling me she’s always liked me (!!) and then we kissed (!!!!!)
One exclamation point in parentheses typically means “This part of the sentence is surprising, but that’s not all.” You can add more exclamation points throughout the sentence, especially if the news becomes increasingly good or shocking.
Exclamation Point Practice Quiz
Ready to put your exclamation point skills to the test? Add exclamation points to the end of each sentence, and identify the tone they create in the new sentence.
- I set a new school record for running the mile.
- Tell me your secret.
- Don’t touch that button.
- Your wedding dress is beautiful.
- The cat already ate its dinner.
- Who asked you to get involved in my life?
Exclamation Point Practice Quiz Answer Key
Was it easy to figure out the new tones of each sentence, or did you need a little help? (Answers may vary, depending on your interpretation.)
- I set a new school record for running the mile! (Excited tone)
- Tell me your secret! (Demanding tone)
- Don’t touch that button! (Panicked tone)
- Your wedding dress is beautiful! (Excited tone)
- The cat already ate its dinner! (Annoyed tone)
- Who asked you to get involved in my life?! (Demanding/upset tone)
Why Claim When You Can Exclaim?
Exclamation points are like tabasco sauce — a little bit goes a long way. Though using a lot of exclamation marks may not burn your tongue, it can get annoying to read. Sprinkle them sparingly throughout your writing (just like semicolons) to satisfy everyone’s appetite.