The Exclamation Point—Are You Using it Correctly?

POSTED ON Mar 15, 2021

P.J McNulty

Written by P.J McNulty

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Like all terminal punctuation, the exclamation point has its place at the end of particular sentences; however, it also has its frequency. As easy as it is to use exclamation points, its far easier to overuse them. In this guide, we’ll explain not only the when you should use exclamation points, but how often they should appear in your writing.

The Purpose of Exclamation Points

Truthfully, you should only use exclamation points when you are expressing a particularly potent emotion in a text, such as shock, joy, or frustration.

These emotionally heightened sentences are called exclamatory sentences and should be used far less frequently than their declarative and interrogative counterparts. For example, note the impact of the exclamation point at the end of the following sentence:

If you don’t hurry up, we’re going to be late!

The urgency of this statement is clearly conveyed through the use of an exclamation point, whereas a simple period would not have communicated the same degree of emotion.

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It’s not uncommon to see exclamation points used as the terminal punctuation for interjections or sentence fragments. This goes back to its main purpose, and is most often used in dialogue or informal texts written in the first person point of view. Take, for instance, the follow sentences:

You need to stop wasting time and focus on this project. Now!

“Now!” cannot stand on its own as a complete, independent sentence. Therefore, the second sentence is a fragment that utilizes an exclamation point to emphasize the urgency of completing the aforementioned project.

Exclamation points can occasionally appear at the end of interrogative sentences. In these instances, the questions are more often than not rhetorical; the writer does not intend for them to be answered, nor do they want an answer. Rather, they end the sentence with an exclamation point, once again, for emphasis.

How could you have forgotten your brother’s birthday!

This isn’t a common practice in formal writing, though it does appear every so often in more informal works, such as poetry and playscripts.

Exclamation Points With Quotations

Exclamation points on their own aren’t too terribly difficult to place. Things become a little more complicated, however, when there is other punctuation present.

If the exclamation point applies to the material inside the quotation marks, then the it also appears inside the quotation marks, like so:

“I’ll meet you there!” the man called after the quickly departing train.

Here, the exclamation point is used to emphasize the man’s words; it’s pertinent to the dialogue rather than the action, and therefore is placed before the closing quotation mark.

When the exclamation point is used in the greater context of the sentence, though, it should be placed outside the quotation marks.

He was half an hour late and had the audacity to say it was “no big deal”!

The terminal punctuation here emphasizes the writer’s annoyance, not the casual demeanor of the quote’s original speaker, and therefore it appears outside of the quotation marks.

Exclamation Points With Parentheses

The grammar rules surrounding exclamation points with quotation marks and with parentheses are relatively similar. If the exclamation point applies to the material inside the parentheses, then it also goes inside the parentheses. For example:

Chloe hadn’t realized how long the event would run (nearly two hours!).

The emphasis in this case is being placed on the words inside the parentheses (the shocking amount of time that the event ran for) rather than Chloe’s realization. Terminal punctuation for the end of the sentence is still necessary, as exclamation points do not serve this purpose.

When the exclamation point applies to the entirety of the sentence, it belongs outside the closing parentheses. However, this rarely appears in written text.

Overusing Exclamation Points

It comes as no surprise that exclamation points are, perhaps, the most overused terminal punctuation mark. While we as writers want each and every sentence to convey a powerful emotion to our readers, an abundance of exclamation points tends to do just the opposite.

The more they appear in your writing, the more likely they are to lose their novelty over time. Additionally, most formal pieces of writing use few (if any) exclamation points; the emphasis rests entirely on the words themselves.

So, if you choose to utilize exclamation points in your own writing, just remember: everything in moderation!

P.J McNulty

Written by
P.J McNulty

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