When to Use Exclamation Marks

An exclamation mark is a type of punctuation mark that goes at the end of a sentence. It looks like a period with a vertical line over it: ! Other examples of related punctuation marks include periods and question marks, which also go at the end of sentences. Keep reading to learn more about when to use exclamation marks in your writing.

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Exclamation Marks Exclaim!

Exclamation marks, also known as exclamation points, were originally called the "note of admiration." They are used to exclaim something. They are commonly used after interjections (words or phrases that are used to exclaim, command or protest like “wow” or “oh”). Exclamation marks can express the following emotions in writing:

  • excitement - “I can’t wait to go to Disneyland!”
  • surprise - “Oh! You already bought a new car!”
  • astonishment - “Wow! El Capitan is even bigger than I thought!”
  • emphasizing a point - “No! We don’t want to go to the party!”
  • another strong emotion - “That news story made me so angry!”

Any exclamatory sentence can be properly followed by an exclamation mark to add emphasis. After all, doesn't "I am excited!" convey more emotion than "I am excited."? If you use exclamation points sparingly throughout your paragraphs, they can bring a touch of excitement or emotion to your writing.

Exclamation Mark Examples

Exclamation points can affect the tone of a sentence in ways that a period can’t. Here are some more example sentences that use exclamation marks.

  • 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.

Multiple Exclamation Mark Madness!

In formal writing, you include one exclamation mark at the end of a sentence. But in informal writing, such as emails or text messages, people often use more than one to emphasize their point. 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 points can also be used with question marks to express shock, protest or dismay. For example: "What do you mean you forgot the plane tickets?!?!?!?" Don’t add these punctuation marks to a formal essay, though, as they are definitely not proper writing conventions. Multiple exclamation points can also be mistaken for shouting, so use them wisely.

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Do Exclamation Marks Belong in Formal Writing?

There is some dispute in regards to whether exclamation marks belong in formal writing at all. 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. Comic books frequently use exclamation points for emphasis and to add excitement to their pages. 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.

History of the Exclamation Mark

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. (Perhaps people just weren't as excited back then!) Fortunately, exclamation marks now have a prominent place on computer keyboards on the number 1 key.

Punctuation Marks Are Writing Conventions

Exclamation marks make a sentence more exciting, emphatic or emotional. They serve a specific purpose when setting a sentence’s tone. But they’re not the only punctuation marks available to writers! Take a look at the 14 punctuation marks in English writing conventions that can help you express what you’re trying to say.